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THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – June 30, 2019

A reading from the first Book of Kings 19:16b, 19-21
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians 5:1, 13-18
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 9:51-62

Dear Friends in Christ,

This week we return to the Sundays in Ordinary Time.  There is something we need to understand as we listen to the readings in the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday.  The readings have to do with discipleship.  My dictionary defines disciple as a pupil or follower who helps to spread the master’s teachings.  What the first reading and the gospel tell us is that to be a disciple in our tradition is a vocation, a calling that begins with God and is a result of the Spirit’s movement in the one who is called.  

That is fine as far as it goes; but what is also clear is that God looks for a wholehearted response from the one who is called.  Maybe, or, later just will not do.  Earlier in Luke’s Gospel Jesus said to his disciples: If you are going to be my disciple, pick up your cross every day and follow me.  Isn’t Jesus saying, before you say yes to my call, know what you are getting into and what is expected of you?  Jesus defined his own ministry as doing always the will of the One who sent him.  The disciples must strive to say the same thing about their lives in reference to Jesus who called them to ministry.

In the first reading we meet the prophet Elijah, the great prophet who spent himself trying to keep the Israelites faithful to God by helping them avoid the false gods that others worshiped.  Now he is coming to the end of his days.  There needs to be the selection of his successor, the one who will continue to tell the people what God wants them to hear after God has taken Elijah home.  God directs that successor to be Elisha who is talented and apparently comes from well-to-do parents.  12 yoke of oxen says he is not from paupers.

If there were any words spoken by Elijah in calling Elisha, they are not quoted.  In stead, Elijah simply walks up to Elisha and throws the prophetic cloak on Elisha’s shoulders.  The cloak is the symbol of authority.  Was he stunned for a moment as he pondered and then came to understand what this action meant?  There is nothing in what follows that would indicate hesitation on Elisha’s part.  He runs after Elijah and asks for permission to say a proper adieu to his parents.  Elijah’s words are poorly translated in the text.  In essence he tells Elisha that he should do what he needs to do, but recognize the importance of what Elijah has done to him.

Elisha shows that he accepts God’s will in his life.  He slaughters the oxen.  With the plough and the yoke, he builds a fire so that he can make for his parents a meal from the meat of the oxen. That is the end of Elisha’s former life.  That is over now.  The text doesn’t say that he kissed his mother and father goodbye; but I would bet that he did that before he ran after Elijah to take up his new vocation as Elijah’s attendant.

Why Elisha?  God has placed in Elisha those gifts and talents that will empower him to be successful as Elijah’s successor.  He will be strong, powerful with words, and able to preach effectively.  That makeup is part of the grace that inspires his immediate and whole-hearted response.  His yes seems natural to him.  How could it be any other way?  Everything with which God has gifted him, Elisha will in turn place at God’s disposal.  That is the response God expects.  The same is true for Jesus.

From this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is determined to journey to Jerusalem, there to suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders…and be killed and on the third day be raised.  Jesus is single-minded in his determination and totally responsive to his vocation.  There is an indication that the disciples who are with him still have much to learn.  As they near a Samaritan village, Jesus sends representatives ahead to prepare for his reception there.  Remember that there is strong antipathy between the Samaritans and the Jews.  Jews would incur ritual impurity and so be unfit to enter into temple worship were they to come into contact with a Samaritan.  The Samaritans refuse to welcome Jesus.  James and John are furious.  (They are aptly named sons of thunder.)  They want to punish severely the Samaritans.  They might be open to the idea of slaughtering them.  But Jesus rebukes them.  A rebuke is a strong castigation.  We do not hear what Jesus said in the rebuke.  But you can imagine.  The incident is over.  They go on towards Jerusalem.

The theme of call to discipleship recurs now.  There are various responses.  One person, bursting with enthusiasm, rushes up to Jesus and says that he will follow Jesus wherever he  goes.  Jesus knows that flashes of enthusiasm can be just that, flashes that are short lived, but perish when reality sets in.  So Jesus puts his poverty before the individual lest he have any misconceptions about Jesus.  Is this one thinking about Jesus as the mighty one who will set Israel free, the way Peter used to think?  We don’t know whether this is the end of the line for the person, or whether, altering his perceptions about Jesus, he embraces the poverty and follows Jesus as a disciple.

Jesus invites another person to follow him.  But the man demurs.  His father has just died and he must tend to the funeral.  Jesus tells him not to let that get in the way of his announcing the Good News.  When Jesus invites another to follow, there seems to be a conscious allusion to Elisha’s story.  The man wants to follow, but after he says goodbye to his family at home.  Jesus says, No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.  In other words, disciples cannot be divided in their response, one foot in one world and one foot in the other.

In the early Church the way Baptism was celebrated attests to this total yes that Jesus wants.  During the Vigil of Easter, the elect were brought to the Font.  At the entrance to the Font, they stood in their old clothes, that is, in what they wore in the life that is about to end.  After they were questioned about their intent and the firmness of their faith, they were asked if they wanted to enter the Font and there to die to all that was in order to rise from the Font reborn in Christ.  They stripped off all the old trappings and, naked, were lead into the waters where they were immersed three times – in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  As they came out on the other side, they were clothed in the white garment that symbolized their having put on Christ.  

What is hard for us to appreciate, perhaps, are the implications the early Neophytes had to accept as they became disciples.  What did they have to give up?  In many cases, everything.  If they were converts from paganism, they could never again come into contact with pagan things, or take part in their practices.  Sometimes the family rejected the convert and s/he is suddenly alone in the world, except for the community of believers.  Sometimes they had to give up their employment.  Leaving everything of the old order on the edge of the Font was more than symbolic.  It aptly described the forsaking of everything that was so that they could live this new life in Christ.  Their entering into Jesus’ dying and rising began their proclamation of the emerging Kingdom of God.

In the second reading, Paul urges us not to look back and take up former ways.  What occasioned his remarks were those people who were urging Christian converts from Judaism to continue the former disciplines.  That seemed to say that they were saved by the Law rather than by the blood of Christ.  Christ sets us free from the Law.  But that does not bring with it the freedom to live licentiously.  The sins of the flesh that Paul refers to involve more than sexual sins.  Pride is a sin of the flesh.  So, too, are envy and greed and all the other capital sins.  None of them should be part of the Christian’s life.

How, then, are we to live?  Paul quotes Jesus in summing up the path we are to follow.  You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Love is the new law.  Christian love is imitative of the love practiced by the One who taught it.  Essentially it is a love of service that, strengthened by the Spirit, empowers us to take up the cross every day and follow Jesus.  It is a love that grows out of the Eucharist that is at the core of our faith life as each Sunday we give thanks to God renewing the Lord’s dying and rising.

It is said that when Romans witnessed the behavior of the Christians as they faced a martyr’s death, the pagans said, See how these Christians love one another.  I would like to think that that is an accurate quote in those circumstances.  If it is, that might also be an explanation for why the church flourished during those terrible times, and why the number of converts always surges during periods of persecution.

There are people who represent us and go to distant and desperate lands to minister to the impoverished in Christ’s name.  They live joyous lives in spite of the dangers that surround them and the threatening sword that might claim their lives at any time.  How these Christians love the poor and pour themselves out that the little ones might know that God loves them in Christ!

Wouldn’t that be an amazing grace if the first thing a visitor sensed as s/he entered the parish church for Sunday Mass was how these parishioners love one another?  And what if the second thing s/he realized was that that love embraces the visitor, too, and those beyond.  That could be a life-altering experience, especially if that one came into that community feeling alone and abandoned, judged, unloved and ignored.  S/he would share in the Bread and  drink from the Cup.  You can be sure that it wouldn’t be long before the visitor tells others what s/he found there – and s/he can hardly wait until next Sunday.  The whole week in between will be better, too.

The invitation to discipleship is always there.  The question is, how do we respond?

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus  

FEAST OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST C – June 23, 2019

A reading from the Book of Genesis 14:18-20
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 11:23-26
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 9:11b-17

Dear Friends in Christ,

This Sunday we are invited to ponder a Mystery to be transformed by it.  The feast used to be called by its Latin name: Corpus Christi.  The Body of Christ.  Grand processions happened on this day.  The Eucharistic Bread was placed in a monstrance.  The priest, clad in a gold-threaded cope, with a humeral veil around his shoulders so that his hands would not touch the vessel, in procession, carried the monstrance through the streets and byways of the parish.  A smoking thurible of incense preceded the Sacrament.  Three times along the way, the procession would stop.  The people gathered would be blessed as the monstrance moved in cruciform over them.  It was a moment for adoration of the objectified Eucharist.

In an evening many years ago I stood in the area before the grotto at Lourdes.  In the distance a procession began.  On the night air, I heard the sound of voices singing the hymn to Mary as the sick, in wheelchairs and on gurneys, assisted by aides, were brought to the  Grotto.  Before long these people, in varying degrees of illness, surrounded me.  I watched and tried to sing with them, but emotion caught in my throat.  It was obvious that the young attendants cared for their ill ones and felt privileged to minister to their every need.  They prayed that they might be present for one of the miracles that are reputed to happen in that holy place.

Then, at the end of the procession, came the priest carrying a monstrance and accompanied by his servers.  He moved among the sick, some of whom reached out to touch his cope as the priest passed by.  Finally, he arrived at the altar at the mouth of the grotto.  He lifted the monstrance and blessed the assembled.  In a moment it was over.  The priest departed.  The crowd began to disperse.  The radiant smiles that wreathed most of the faces of the sick as they were helped to return to the hospital were a clear indication to me that the miracle happened.  I don’t know if any physical miracles happened that night.  But there was no doubt about the miracle of consolation and peace.

Are processions and benedictions the most important part of the observance of the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ?  I doubt that.  For me, this feast gives us an opportunity to ponder the meaning of what we do when we gather around the Table to celebrate.  The Eucharist is a sacramental presence of Christ.  It is also the action of giving thanks to God as we renew Christ’s dying and rising until he comes again in glory.

Hear the first reading from the Book of Genesis.  Abram, later called Abraham, returns as a hero, having been a victor in battle.  Melchizedek, priest and king of Salem, comes out to meet Abram and brings bread and wine.  Melchizedek blesses Abram and praises God for the victory.  And Abram tithes to Melchizedek from all his wealth as a sign of his gratitude to God.

In those few verses from Genesis are contained the elements of what we do each time we gather to worship.  The word Eucharist means thanksgiving, the action of giving thanks to God.  We assemble around a Table on which have been placed those same simple elements that Melchizedek offered – bread and wine.  The basic elements of food and drink are signs of God’s bounty providing for our needs.  In that ancient meal God’s blessing on Abram was invoked.  They praised and blessed God for the victory.  In our gathering, we give thanks to God through the One who conquered everything that we fear.  Sin, suffering, and death will never hold sway again.  In our sharing in the Eucharist, we share in that victory.

Paul wrote the first Letter to the Corinthians before any of the Gospels, within thirty years of the Resurrection event.  Paul wrote to correct abuses around their worship that had arisen in the Corinthian community.  He did not want them to lose sight of the essentials.  He said that what he passed on to them was what he received personally from the Risen Christ.  The core actions of Eucharist, in imitation of what Jesus did on the night before he died, must be part of their celebrations.  Jesus took bread.  He gave thanks and broke the bread.  After identifying the bread as his body, he gave the bread to those gathered with him to eat.  Jesus took the cup of blessing, the cup of wine, identified the wine as his blood, and with it proclaimed the New Covenant of relationship with God, as he gave the cup to them to drink.  The Covenant is sealed.

We must not miss the last words of the ritual that Paul quoted: Do this in my memory.  To remember is to make present.  Whenever disciples gather around the Table and do this, the Lord is present in their midst.  The action proclaims Christ’s death, but not to depress.  Rather Paul reminds us that we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.  Eucharist is essentially a hope-filled action that reminds us that the battle may still have to be waged, but Christ is the victor.  We know how everything will work out.  Eucharistic people are people of hope.

The gospel proclamation for today does not take us into the upper room for the Last Supper.  Rather, we hear proclaimed one of the major incidents that is recounted in all four of the Gospels – the miraculous feeding of the multitude.  Notice the context.  Jesus proclaims the good news of the coming of the Kingdom.  He heals those needing to be cured.  The number of those gathered is huge.  We are meant to understand the great hunger for the Word that the crowd brings to the moment.  Evening is on its way.  The Twelve are keenly aware that this crowd is also hungry for food.  They bring their concern to Jesus who challenges them to meet the people’s needs.  They tell Jesus that there are over 5000 people present.  All the Twelve have are a few loaves and a couple of fish – a meager amount, to say the least.

In what follows there is an important lesson for each of us.  Have you ever felt overwhelmed in the face of some huge problem?  As you listen to the evening news and hear accounts of disasters and wars, when images of starving people and the world’s weary fill the screen, when you see those refugees at the boarders, and the street people living in hovels in our major cities, don’t you feel powerless to do anything to make the situation better?  Do you feel inadequate before the magnitude of the issues?  After all, all you have are a few loaves and a couple of fish.  Or so we are tempted to think.

Jesus tells the Apostles to get the people seated in groups of fifty.  5000 are a mob.  Groups of 50 can coalesce into small faith communities.

Scripture scholars give two interpretations of the multiplication.  All underscore the action words in the narrative.  Jesus takes the loaves and two fish, prays, blesses the food, breaks the loaves and the fish and gives them to the Apostles to put before the crowd.  One group of scholars say that there was a miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish, so much so that there was plenty for all to eat their fill and still for their to be twelve baskets of loaves and fish left over.  No one says that is not possible.  We do believe, after all, that with God all things are possible.  We heard that earlier in Luke’s Gospel.

The other scholars say that when Jesus put the meager gifts before them, placed all that the Apostles had at the people’s disposal, something just as miraculous happened.  Individuals brought forth their own stash of food and shared the little they had with each other.  Low and behold, there was more than enough for all.  The people in the crowd had been transformed by what Jesus had done.  A people, closed in on themselves, opened up to each other and in their sharing knew the bounty of God.  Did they recognize the unity that was theirs in the Lord?  Did they suddenly believe that together they could overcome this want?  Is that the miracle of the loaves and fish?

We come together as believers to celebrate Eucharist.  We come as we are with our gifts and shortcomings.  Our very selves become part of the offerings that are the bread and wine on the Table.  With the priest in persona Christi, we give thanks to God, pray the blessing, break the bread and distribute the wine, as all are invited to take and eat, and take and drink.  If the veil were lifted then and we could see the reality to which the sign points, we would recognize the transformation the Spirit empowers.  The Bread and Wine are the Body and Blood of Christ.  Those assembled at the table are the Body of Christ, the Church.  God’s reign comes through Christ.

Earlier, we talked about the processions and adoration that often are part of the Feast of Corpus Christi.  Those are fine as far as they go.  But something more is needed.  It would be sad if our participation in the Eucharist were ones of passivity and adoration.  If we fully, actively, and consciously participate in Eucharist, then we must recognize that each celebration concludes with the Assembly’s being sent to bring Eucharist to the world.  The Mass is ended.  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord and one another.  That is the great insight in the second interpretation of the feeding of the multitude: the people gathered and transformed, from their own resources, blessed and broken, share of themselves and so meet the needs of the hungry.

In every country in our world, people gather to celebrate Eucharist on the Lord’s Day.  From these celebrations go forth those who will bring Eucharist to those who are sick, infirm, homeless, and unable to be present for the celebration.  Others will go out, committed to working among the poor and the disenfranchised.  Some will be convinced of their need to march in demonstration with the oppressed.  Some will choose to enter into community with those discards of society that most people never notice.  Others will give from their resources to help bring recovery to those devastated by the ravages of wind and rain.  In the process, bonds are formed.  We realize that if all would do their part there would be more than enough for each person to eat and to drink and know the bounty of God’s love that comes to us through Jesus.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

FEAST OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY – C – June 16, 2019

A reading from the Book of Proverbs 8:22-31
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 5:1-5
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 16:12-15

Dear Friends in Christ,

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.  Would you mind if we take a bit of a different journey through the Liturgy of the Word?  By that I mean that I would like to take us on a meditative journey into the Mystery we celebrate.  Who can understand the Trinity?  Should anyone try?  It is the nature of mystery to be partly grasped, even as the essence escapes comprehension.  The mystery of the Trinity – that is how God is revealed to us who believe in Jesus Christ our risen Lord.  Three persons in one unique nature – God.  Father.  Son.  Holy Spirit.  Creator.  Redeemer.  Sanctifier.  God.

Often as I pray, I sit before the Rublev Icon of the Trinity.  Three gloriously clad winged beings sit about a table, a bowl containing the slaughtered and roasted lamb before them.  As I ponder, as I invite you to do with me, I can get lost in the Icon even as it invites me to enter.  Gaze at the mystery and the wonder that is the Trinity .  Be filled with awe and be humbled as you realize you are invited to enter and complete the circle.  It is the nature of the icon to be a window into heaven and to draw the beholder to come in.

I cannot tell you how many time over how many years I have pondered this glorious work.  I have struggled to interpret the signs it contains.  As you ponder, you might experience the same emotions that I have in response to the layers of meaning, the depth of Mystery captured there.  Pray for the Spirit to guide you.  Consider in silence.  You will feel the Spirit encouraging you.  The Risen One tells us: Do not be afraid.  I go before you.  Come.  Follow me.

It is the Father who sits at the left, the heavenly blue fabric, worn by all three, is nearly covered by his ethereal robe of indescribable color.  Who can see God?  And he points to the Son, robed in blue, but in earth tones, too.  Divinity and humanity come together in the Son.  And the sash over his shoulder is the symbol of all authority that the Father has given to the Son.  Eyes fixed on the Father, the Son points to the Spirit, the One the Son promised to send, the One who makes known all that Jesus taught to beings incapable of comprehending without the Spirit’s said.

Drink in the imagery that emerges in the backdrop.  That craggy rock above the Spirit might represent the steep climb entailed in being with Jesus on The Way..  Is it the hill Jesus climbed with the burden of our sins in the cross on his back?  Is it the hill that all who are invited to follow Jesus must climb, and once the summit is reached, to die there with Jesus?  

Above the Three is the Oak of Mamre that stood near where Abraham saw the three angelic creatures in the text that was Rublev’s inspiration for this icon.  The tree towers over the table of sacrifice.  The tree provides shade in the heat of the day.  We can pause there and ponder life’s decisions, the faith decisions necessary if we are to walk with the Lord.  

It is also the tree to which the Son was nailed that transformed the instrument of death and defeat into the tree of life, our reason to hope.  The crag leads to the tree that stands between it and the house above the Father.  In my Father’s house there are many mansions.  Dying with Jesus on the tree is the means of access to the heavenly dwelling.

If your experience is like mine, it will not be long before you come to realize that it is not enough to sit and gaze at this masterpiece, and to remain apart from it.  If we pray before it, we must yield to the invitation to complete the circle at the table and enter the relationship, the community that is there.  As we begin to comprehend, we might weep.  It is all too wonderful.

Why does my mind leap to God’s words in Genesis at the very dawn of creation?  Let us make the earthling in our own image.  God breathes life into the clay of the earth.  That Creature that results cannot live alone and in isolation.  The Creature, and all those who share in that creature’s nature, must live in communion that reflects and is part of the Community that is God.  That community is spousal.  That community is intimate friendship in one who is the other half of my soul.  That community is Church with a membership wide and diverse that is the Body of Christ and that shares the life that is the Trinity.

The table in the icon shimmers white, as do the haloes around the heads of the Three.  Beyond gold, white is divine.  For us, the Table is the primary symbol of Christ, of the sacrifice, and is the place where we are invited to gather and share the meal that is Christ’s Body and Blood.

The Triune God loves unconditionally all made in God’s image and likeness.  So all are welcome here.  Take and eat.  Take and drink.  And when we do, the whole Church is present as God reigns.

Forgive me if I have rambled.  There is much more that comes to mind as I ponder this holy image.  I know that I will continue to pray with it and wonder at its power and mystery.  The same can be your experience.  We may fear it.  But even as we tremble, a hand will reach out and empower us to enter.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus