Archive for the ‘Homilies’ Category

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – July 22, 2018

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 23:1-6
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 2:13-18
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark 6:30-34

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

No wonder Jeremiah was unpopular with the establishment.  It is not hard to imagine how he fell into disfavor and was thrown into the cistern where he sank into the mud and cried out to God for vengeance.  If you were one of the religious leaders of his time and were being publicly excoriated for the miserable job you were doing, with devastating results for the people, wouldn’t you be furious?  On the other hand, if you had an ounce of humility and could hear in Jeremiah’s prophecy the grace of God challenging you to recognize the errors of your ways, challenging you to repent and do a better job of putting the needs of the sheep ahead of the shepherd’s, you might have found yourself secretly thanking him for his courage to speak an unpopular truth.

The fact is that in every age, those who most need the message become most deaf to it because they are the ones in authority, divinely appointed to be so.  Or so it would seem.  Yet even as the prophets are vilified, there are those who listen and change.  

We must hear Jeremiah.  If we do, the result will not be to point the accusatory finger at those presently on the various thrones of authority.  Although, there can always be the prayer that they too will listen, recognize the errors of their ways, and put the lesson learned into practice.  There is a challenge in the prophecy for each and all of us, and not just for the current shepherds.

Inept shepherding can lead to disaster for the flock.  God speaks through Jeremiah and says that the time has come for God to take back the staff and do the shepherding because those called to the task have failed miserably.  The people have suffered.  There is only a remnant left.  Once God has rescued the survivors, God will appoint a new type of shepherd.  A successor to David will reign and govern wisely; he shall do what is just and right in the land.  Then Israel will be safe and secure.

We believe that successor to David is Jesus.  What Jeremiah described as resulting from the reign of the successor we would call the Messianic Age.  That is why Jesus is called the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah.  Whether or not that age has been realized is beside the point.  It is God’s will that it will come about through Christ.  It must be lived by the united body that now goes beyond the once and still chosen people of Israel.

In today’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us of God’s first covenant with the Jewish people, sealed in Circumcision and evidenced through adherence to the Law.  The Gentiles were excluded.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the barriers have come down.  The blood of Christ has made all people, Jews and the separated Gentiles alike, one people, reconciled to each other and to God in Christ.  Isn’t that another way to describe the Messianic Age?  Forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace available to all are lived in Christ.  It is Jesus through his teaching, preaching, and acting who exemplified how we are to work to realize the Age.

Take the lead from last week’s Gospel.  Remember that Jesus sent out the twelve to be extensions of him, acting with his authority, bringing about healing and forgiveness for those upon whom the disciples laid their hands in Jesus’ name.  Even the demons obeyed them.  Now they come back rejoicing in their success, rejoicing and exhausted.  Jesus tells them to find quiet and take a rest.  Just where could that be?  How will they do that, given what has been unleashed.  The twelve were effective because they met the people where they were and responded to their needs.  Their ministry has awakened a hunger for more.  Crowds come wherever the disciples are, yearning for deliverance, understanding and acceptance.  There is no escaping the crowds even when Jesus suggests that the disciples get into the boat and set off for a deserted place.  The crowds know where Jesus and the disciples are going and get there first.  The crowds wait as the twelve disembark and step on shore.

It is not unreasonable for the twelve to ask for rest and recuperation.  Exhaustion is a field hazard of ministry.  Even Jesus was known to go off by himself and spend nights in prayer in deserted places.  Invariably someone came to him there to remind him of the need, as if he might have forgotten.  Everyone is looking for you.  Jesus would return to the ministry.  The crowds and their needs always come first.  Jesus serves always.

Do not miss the amazing image at the close of this gospel.  When Jesus steps out of the boat, the frantic crowds, their number and their needs strike him.  His heart was moved with pity for them for they were like sheep without a shepherd.  This is Jeremiah’s image in his prophecy.  No one is shepherding the people.  Jesus’ response is to shepherd them himself.  He begins to teach them many things.  This is not to chastise the legitimately exhausted disciples.  But it is to show them who must always come first.  If they are to share in Jesus’ ministry, if they are to be Jesus’ other selves, then they must do what Jesus does.

This brings us back to what might well be the message for us to take to heart from this week’s readings.  Nothing in the readings promises the hearers position, power, or profit.  The call is to imitate the Good Shepherd.  This is not a ministry that results in being set above and apart.  This is a ministry of service among.  The Good Shepherd, the consolation in this week’s psalm response, we learn elsewhere is a shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him.  He calls them by name.  He lays down his life for his sheep.  That ought to be the most to which Jesus’ disciples aspire.  That is also why elsewhere Jesus challenges those who want to be his disciples to be sure they can take up the cross every day, to be sure that their strength is Jesus.  This is why he will castigate Peter and demand that Peter learn from Jesus by walking in his footsteps and paying attention to what Jesus does.  Get behind me, you Satan!  What had Peter done?  He simply protested that suffering and dying did not fit his image of who Jesus was as Messiah.  Peter thought with Messiahship would come position and power, not crucifixion and death.  Who could have known what Resurrection on the Third Day could possibly mean?

We live in a new age in the church.  This is the Church of Vatican Council II.  The Council proclaimed that the Church is the People of God, called to live their Baptismal Priesthood.  That means every baptized person is called to ministry and to shepherd.  Of course it means also that every baptized person is called to be ministered to and to be shepherded in the community we call Church.

The Church is a people constantly assembling to be formed in the Word and transformed by the Eucharist.  It is a people constantly growing in the understanding of what it means to be the body of Christ.  It is a people constantly learning the implications of the Bread broken and the Cup poured out, of the meal shared through the procession to Holy Communion.  Never is this action something in which to rest.  Rather, it is always something from which the people are sent, themselves to be broken and poured out in imitation of the One who called them to the Table and who was broken and poured out for them.

Do you hear Pope Francis’s urgings to the shepherds in these readings?  Do you hear his pleas to the Church?  Shepherd in the midst.  Welcome all.  Hold the poor in primacy of place and support them.  And you know that there are those who do not want to hear his prophesying.

So, in the end, we are left with a dichotomy.  There is such a thing as exhaustion and the danger of being burned out by ministering.  Jesus invites the disciples to rest.  But the demands of the poor ones wandering about like sheep without a shepherd must always come first for them, even before their legitimate need for rest.  Those who would be his disciples must always seek to do what Jesus does, to imitate him in everything.  Who can do that?

Only those whose strength is Jesus.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus 

 

 

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FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – July 15, 2018

A reading from the Book of Amos 7:12-15
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 1:3-14
A reading from the holy gospel according to Mark 6:7-13

Dear Friends in Christ,

The elderly woman, poorly dressed, stood at the corner waiting for the light to change so that she could cross the avenue.  The intersection was busy and cars sped on their way in both directions before her.  When the Walk sign shone across the street she hesitated and other pedestrians edged around her and made their way into the crosswalk.  She took a step from the curb, quickly glanced to her left and right, and then retreated back to her starting point.  The embarrassed expression on the face of on-lookers was apparent as they pretended not to notice the woman’s confusion.  The cycle happened a second time without the woman’s making the crossing.  She wrapped her arms around herself and shuddered.

In a moment a little girl ran up to the woman and tugged on her coat.  At first the woman did not react.  The little girl pulled again on the sleeve of coat.  The woman turned and looked down at the child.  The girl held up her hand and asked, “Could you help me cross the street?”  There was a hesitation and another search of both directions.  Then the woman made a brushing motion to the sides of her coat.  She licked her lips as a smile emerged.  Then she extended her hand to the child.  Together they proceeded to make their way to the other side.  Members of the crowd poked each other and nodded wordlessly.  One man laughed.  One flicked a tear from his eye.  It was almost until the two had made it to the other side of the street before others, including the child’s mother scurried across.

The mother took her child’s hand and tried to disengage her from the woman’s clutch.  But the girl pulled her hand from her mother’s grasp and said, “No, Mother.  This is my friend and she helped to cross the street.  Would you help her now?”

The mother took firm hold of her daughter and pulled her away from the woman.  “How many times have I told you not to talk to strangers?  What is the matter with you?”

The young girl began to cry.  She turned and looked back at the woman whose eyes were still fixed on her.  She waved at the tyke and blew a kiss as others asked the woman if they could help her.

Who are the prophets?  From where do they come?  Given their importance as spokespersons for God in our tradition, you might assume they came from the upper class, the gentrified.  But often that is not the case.  There was a clan of professional prophets at the time of today’s first reading.  They prophesied for pay.  Their messages pleased their audiences.  They told the people what they wanted to hear.  

Then there were those like Amos who was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores, neither a lofty nor respected profession.  A peon might be a closer description.  God told Amos that he was a shepherd no more.  From now on he would speak for God to the people of God, to Israel now wandering from God’s ways.  But when Amos obeyed and preached, his prophecy stung, so much so that Amaziah, the authority over the Bethel sanctuary, wanted to banish him from Bethel.  He told Amos to preach elsewhere where his message might be appreciated.  

What is important to recognize is that there is no other explanation for the effective prophet other than grace, other than having been seized by the Spirit.

Last week we witnessed Jesus’ failure in his hometown.  They knew his origins and would not hear his message.  Because of their lack of faith he could not work his miracles there.  He was amazed at them and their response to him.  But rather than wallow in defeat, Jesus forges ahead.  This week we witness him send out the twelve.  Their task is to preach the Good News of repentance.  With Jesus’ authority they are to drive out unclean spirits.  Jesus shares his ministry and challenges them to do what he does for the reason that he does it.  That is why the instruction for how they are to conduct themselves is so important.  If you hear it you will marvel that it is so far from practical.  Rather than admonishing them to be well prepared for their journey, Jesus tells them the opposite.  Be vulnerable, ill equipped, and with no extras.  No funds for fancy lodgings.  No store of food to sustain them along the way.  They are to wear sandals and use a walking stick.  That is it.  Stay where people welcome the message and share food of their table.  Be ready for rejection, too.  When that happens, move on until they find those who will welcome the prophecy.

What is the lesson for us?  The people Jesus sends out will have nothing about them of power or wealth.  They will have nothing that will allow them to lord it over others.  Why is that important?  There must be no other explanation for what they say and do than Jesus and God’s love that he brings.  Those who come do not approach to conquer, but to serve.  They come to minister to the sick, help those who are lost find the way back, and to announce to all the Good News.

There was nothing pretentious about the little girl I watched assist the woman on the street corner – nothing impressive but her vulnerability and the courage that compelled her to reach out.  When others who should have acted saw what the little girl did, in their embarrassment, they followed the girl’s prophetic stance and stepped up to help.

We, as Church, are meant to be a prophetic people.  We are meant to witness to the Gospel’s call to justice, to uphold the dignity and worth of all people, and to serve out of love.  Nothing gets in the way of the effectiveness of the message more than preaching from a position of power.  That may well be why the most effective times for the Church are those of suffering.  It is said that when the Romans witnessed the love among the Christians on their way to a martyr’s death, they marveled: See how these Christians love one another.  It was witnessing the love that opened the pagan hearts to the message and compelled them to seek the truth themselves.

Francis of Assisi lived in an era when the Church was prosperous.  Francis dispossessed himself, wed Lady Poverty, and preached effectively, responding to the Lord’s challenge to him to rebuild my Church.  Damien left Belgium and lived among the lepers of Molokai.  He rejoiced the morning he spoke to his community as fellow lepers.  They heard the message.  Dorothy Day left Communism for communism that is Church and in her poverty she supported the dignity of the workers of the world.  And many of them followed.

We must not miss the prophesying of the first pope to take Francis’s name.  This Bishop of Rome urges us to be a poorer church, serving the needs of the poor.  Her urges the hierarchy to put aside the splendors of garb the way he did that of the Pontiff’s and shepherd in the midst of the sheep, smelling like them.  Imitate Christ.  Love as he loves.  Make it obvious that all are welcome where we gather.  And all are loved.

It is not without significance that we come to the Table empty handed.  We gather there in our poverty to give thanks to God for the gift that is faith at work in our lives.  We gather there to break Bread and share a Cup that is food and drink for our journey.  We gather to be sent to feed, to clothe, to minister to the sick and the dying, to visit the imprisoned, to work for the dignity of all people, even the lowliest, and so drive out demons.  If we are as vulnerable as those to whom we minister, then Christ is the only explanation for our success as the Kingdom is built up.  Not all will hear, of course.  But those who do will rejoice and know that they are loved.  That is reason for hope.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – July 8, 2018

 

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel 2:2-5
A reading from the second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 12:7-10
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 6:1-6

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

Prophecy is one of the gifts or charisms of the Spirit, that according to St. Paul.  The recipient is one God appoints to speak what God wants the people to hear.  We tend to think of a prophet as one who can foretell events, a seer, so to speak.  Sometimes foretelling is an aspect of prophesying, but usually in terms of the consequences that will follow should the message not be heeded.

There is not a prophet who welcomed the charism.  Most of them were reluctant prophets who yielded to God’s call only after pleading their inadequacy for one reason or another.  Often they protested because they knew how other prophets had suffered.  They hesitated because they could see the message would be rejected.  Sometimes they prayed to be left alone so that they could go on with their lives as they were living them.  But God persists until the reluctant prophet accepts and goes forth.

We hear Ezekiel, in the first reading, speak of his calling.  The spirit enters him and sets him on his feet.  It becomes clear that Ezekiel is being sent to the Israelites who have turned their backs on the Covenant.  His intended audience will not be easy or receptive.  The only assurance Ezekiel has is that the power of his message will convince his hearers that a prophet has been in their midst.  That does not mean they will heed the message and so change their ways.  The fact of the matter is that it is only in retrospect that a prophet’s authenticity is confirmed as the people remember what he said and see the fruit, or lack there of, at work in their lives.  Then they will lament: If only we had listened.

Jesus is an eager prophet.  Every word and every action is said or done in response to the will of the One who sent him.  Over the last several weeks we have caught glimpses of his power in calming the storm – even the wind and the waves obey him.  A woman had hemorrhaged for 12 years, and in a moment of faith, she touched the hem of his garment and was healed.  A 12-year-old girl died, only to be awakened by Jesus’ gentle touch and invitation: Talitha koum.  She obeyed him.

Crowds gather wherever Jesus goes, hang on his every word, and wonder.  They show astonishment in response to spectacular events.  In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus returns to Nazareth, to his hometown, to family and friends.  As he did at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus on the Sabbath, enters the synagogue and begins to teach, begins to prophesy.  The audience is stunned, even astonished by what they hear.  Hear, perhaps, is not the right word, because they do not receive the message.  Knowing Jesus and his origins, his family, gets in the way.  Jesus is a carpenter, after all.  They know his mother.  They remember the boy, having watched him grow up.  They know his relatives, ordinary people all.  Even though they have heard of the miracles and marveled at the accounts, they are offended by what they perceive to be pretentiousness.

A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.  Jesus said that and struggled.  It is clear that he had things in mind to accomplish there, great deeds similar to those he had performed elsewhere, deeds that could be vehicles for the Nazarenes to experience God’s love that comes through Jesus.  But in order for those deeds to happen, there must be faith.  Jesus must be heard and believed.  Mark tells us that a few sick people were cured by his touch.  The implication is that so much more could have happened if only….  And Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith.

Each time we sit beneath the Word, we have the opportunity to listen.  But do we hear?  Does the Word proclaimed penetrate and lodge in our hearts?  That depends on how radical are the changes in our lives Jesus’ message seems to demand.  Our excuse for not responding cannot be because we knew him in his formative years.  But it might be because we knew him in our own.  By that I mean that by now these proclamations are twice told tales.  We have heard them before, even often by this telling.  Along the way we have adapted what we have heard and concluded that surely he did not mean what we first heard.  Take those calls to poverty for example, or the commandment to love even the enemy.  Surely, given these times in which we live, Jesus didn’t mean that to be taken seriously in those prophetic remarks.  So we accommodate.  And those accommodations that we make dull the message and get in the way of the conversion Jesus longs to see.  Is it not amazing how understandable we find our greed, our sexism, our racism, how understandable our own sins are?  Surely Jesus was not addressing those.  Was he?  How much of that response is attributable to our lack of faith?

Here is something to think and pray about.  Did you ever wonder if you were called to be a prophet?  Do not be too hasty to protest and deny.  Remember, you were baptized.  That means that in the Waters you died to sin and put on Christ, called to live that life forever.  The Spirit entered you.  God’s love enveloped you.  As you came out of the Waters, the heavens opened and the voice of God was heard: This is my beloved one in whom I take great delight.  Listen.  With your Baptism came priesthood as you began to live one with a priestly people.  Do you believe this?  Imagine what would happen if we did!

There have been those among us who did take their Baptism, their call to be prophetic, seriously.  We call them saints.  Unfortunately, calling them saints can turn them into icons and make them distant.  We might miss that it was because they took their relationship with Christ seriously that they dealt so forcefully with the contemporary foes of the Good News they encountered.  Mother Teresa.  Dorothy Day.  Thomas Merton.  Dr. Tom Dooley.  Archbishop Oscar Romero.  The Ugandan Martyrs.  These were ordinary people all who did extraordinary things because they took the Gospel seriously.  They became prophets.  They were heard.  Some even more so after they were killed for their prophesying.  Those we call martyrs.

Some would say that Pope Francis is a Prophet for our times.  He urges us to be who we say we are, imitators of Jesus.  Be a poorer church, serving the needs of the poor.  Shepherd in the midst of the sheep and smell like them.  Recognize the dignity and worth of all God’s people.  Why were many shocked when he told a gay man that God made him the way he is and loves him as he is?  What is the significance of the Bishop of Rome kneeling and washing the feet of young Muslim prisoners?  What should we take from his inviting in street people to breakfast with him?  

And there are some who say, in effect, How dare he!

What we sometimes forget is, it is the living of the Gospel, loving as Jesus loved, and serving as Jesus served, that gives the message its power.  You are called to be that prophet now, where you live, in your own neighborhood.  What if we believed it and meant it when we said, Speak, Lord, your servant is listening?  And then acted on what we heard?

So we gather about the Table as a priestly people to give thanks in the celebration of the Eucharist, giving thanks to God as we renew Jesus’ dying and rising in Bread and wine.  Take and eat.  Take and drink.  Then be sent to be Christ’s continuing presence until all know and believe they are the beloved of God.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus