Archive for the ‘Messages’ Category

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – May 14, 2017

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 6; 1-7
A reading from the first Letter of Saint Peter 2:4-9
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 14:1-12

Did you notice that this Sunday is called the Fifth Sunday of Easter?  That is, not the fifth Sunday after Easter.  It is important for us to remember what is supposed to be happening during these weeks.  We might miss the point since we have been in the Easter Season nearly as long as we were in Lent.  We live in the dawning reality and implications of the moment that changed everything forever.

Sad but true, we might see lent as more fitting than Easter to be a season.  During Lent we focus on the Cross and on fasting, praying and alms giving.  Holy Week comes and we make the Passion and Death journey.  We witness defeat.  We looked on and saw Jesus betrayed, rejected and broken.  Except for three, even the disciples fled in sadness and left Jesus to die on the Cross.  They had hoped Jesus would be the one to set Israel free.

We do not live in the past.  The mysteries of Jesus’ dying and rising are timeless.  Through the proclamation of the Liturgies of Holy Thursday and Good Friday we recognize their continuation in the events of our times and our entry into them.  There is not much in contemporary culture to encourage the recognition that there is one human family, each person created in the image and likeness of God, loved by God, destined to live in that love for all eternity.

Today’s gospel, if you will, is the proclamation of the primacy of self.  What are the goals today’s children are taught to set for them selves?  To be number one.  To be powerful.  To be wealthy.  There is little sense of social conscience, that we have a responsibility to seek justice for the poor and the down trodden.  Wars rage and millions flee seeking refuge.  Saber rattling increases with every newscast.  As I write this, one state in our Union in three days has executed three men.  There is violence in our streets with innocents being gunned down in drive-by shootings.  A man murdered his infant daughter on camera.

Many have walked away from the Church.  The message being proclaimed is not resonating with the masses.  If there were more evidence of the bishops, clergy and faithful living the social Gospel there just might be full churches on Sundays besides Easter.  It should be clear that the Catholic Church is present in those marches proclaiming that Black Lives Matter.

Faith in Christ has been found wanting because some of those who witnessed to it professionally have been found wanting.  There are scars physical and emotional that attest to a tyranny.  Pope Francis preaches a poor church serving the needs of the poor.  Some in the Church do not want to hear that message.  Who wants to smell like the sheep?  Serve in the midst of the sheep?  How many aspire to be feet washers of Muslims, and Jews, and convicted Mafia members?

Now remember what happened on this Easter Sunday.  All around the world churches filled to over flowing for Sunday Mass and other religious services.  Many parishes witnessed the Baptism of neophytes joining the ranks.  Perhaps Easter remains the day people gather, hoping against hope.  And the Good News must be proclaimed clearly so that those nearly broken ones, caught up in the wave of scandal and defeat can be renewed in Spirit and be reminded of who they are in Christ and the hope that is theirs in Him.

Pope Francis clearly proclaims a primacy of place for the poor.  The hierarchy is being challenged to live more simply.  Crowds seem to hang on his every word.  A Rabbi is among his closest friends.  He has meaningful conversations with a newspaper editor who is an atheist.  Many resonate with the Bishop of Rome’s message and some are returning to the Church.

Easter is a Feast of 50 days.  The message proclaimed is that Christ has triumphed over everything humankind fears.  Death no longer has power over us.  The little ones in Christ are the beloveds of God.  Throngs are strengthened and rejoice in the Word, just as they did in light of the first Easter.

Hear what is happening in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  The Twelve are busy about proclaiming the Good News.  Many listen and respond and are baptized.  The numbers grow.  As they do some essential services don’t happen.  Some needy ones are being neglected.  So, some good and faithful ones become official servants of the poor, thereby allowing the Twelve to be faithful to their charisms as preachers and teachers.  That is how the Order of Deacons came about.  What we are witnessing is the realization of mutual responsibility for each other among the faithful.  The Priesthood of the Baptized emerges.

Forgive me if I keep referring to Pope Francis, but his witness inspires me.  He stands and serves among people shocked by what is happening in Ukraine, and Iraq, and Syria.  People struggle to reconcile church bells and alleluias with the A>IDS epidemic and starvation and malaria and sleeping sickness and human trafficking all ravaging Africa and others parts of our world.  How can the triumph being celebrated be reconciled with the horrors unless they are identified with the Cross?  Reason for hope is found in our sharing in Christ’s triumph over sin, suffering and death.  Imagine what can happen when the faithful accept again that they share in that triumph and therefore can inspire hope in those who falter.

We are supposed to understand that if we follow Christ in Resurrection, suffering ought not surprise us.  Yes, the battle is done.  Yes, the triumph is won.  But we must remember that Christ’s Victory remains a work in progress that will continue to the end of time.  “Behold I am with you always, until the end of time.”

Those people who entered the Font during the Easter Vigil emerged from the waters gleaming with oil and were dressed in white, signs of their identification with Christ.  Their sins are washed away.  They have new life in Christ.  What happens when they are confronted with the reality of sin that has survived in their lives, when they have to deal with the fact that their struggle must still go on?  They must press on for their participation in the Victory that lies before them.  And so must we who with them are the Body of Christ, the Church.

If we recognize Christ in his rising, we must be open to Christ’s help to see all reality in a new light.  Then sometimes what seems like victory to others will be recognized as defeat.  What seems like triumph will be seen as failure.  We struggle on to say no to sin, to the temptations subtle and otherwise to lord it over others, and to see ourselves as superior to others.  In Christ’s Victory we are called to be servants of the servants of God.

That is what Saint Peter reminds us of in today’s second reading.  Christ is the living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.  So are we in Christ.  Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  Those words resonate and should remind us of the call of the Second Vatican Council in which it was declared that the Church is the People of God.  The faithful are called to full, active, and conscious participation in the Liturgy.  We share in the Priesthood of the Baptized.  As Peter says: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of (Christ’s) own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Do you believe that?  Can you live in that reality?  Do you feel the support of your local parish to live that priesthood?

In the Gospel we hear Jesus speaking to the disciples during the Last Supper of his impending death.  They cannot begin to comprehend what he means that even though he dies he will be with them forever.  He is returning to the Father who sent him, there to prepare a place for them.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.  Our journey of faith leads to that eternal union.  There is one way to accomplish that goal.  We must know Christ and imitate him in word and action.  I am the way and the truth and the life…. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.

Do you see why it takes a time to celebrate the reality of Easter and to drink in the implications?  Each time we gather to celebrate Eucharist it is to give thanks to God through the renewing of Christ’s dying and rising.  We see Christ broken and poured out for all.  We experience his Resurrection as we take and eat and take and drink.  Then we are sent to do what Jesus continues to do through his living stones.  As the faithful we go out to love others as we are loved.  That includes our enemies, by the way, again as Jesus taught.  It is all about love.  But this is not a love that prompts us to take anything to our selves.  This is love that empowers us to empty ourselves in service.  We go out to wash feet the way Jesus did.  In the midst of all that seems to spell the defeat of Christianity, we live in the triumph of the Cross as we emerge the new creation begotten in Baptism.  Just as the numbers of faithful grew so rapidly in that first Easter Light, I will wager that if the faithful heed Pope Francis’s invitation and become recommitted to imitation of Christ, the numbers will flourish again.

It may take a while.  But I believe it will happen.  Do you?

Sincerely,

Didymus

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BLESSINGS ON EASTER SUNDAY – April 16, 2017

Dear Reader,

It is springtime in the desert.  The night air is fragrant with the scent of citrus and cactus blossoms.  I sat on my patio and watched the Easter moon cast its glow that caused the surroundings to shimmer.  A mourning dove perched on the wall near me, sang to its partner in the sky.  Strange how all those elements came together to remind me of Mystery.

We are people of faith.  The challenge for us is to live in Mystery and say boldly to the world that there is more than what the senses can behold.  There is something more important than what is tangible, more important than youth, or beauty, or wealth, or power.  We are dared to trust that darkness will not triumph, nor will war, or hatred, or prejudice, nor any of the powers that threaten human kind and bring us to our knees in near despair.  There is something that can only be experienced when all else has failed and the powers of darkness have done their worst.  We must never forget that darkness enveloped Jesus in the last moments of his dying.  He felt abandoned as he cried out to Abba, Father, and asked, “Why have you forsaken me?”

The Lenten journey is that kind of walk, that time of being alone with Jesus, a time when we are invited to enter into the darkness and experience the worst that can befall us.  Every year the season begins with the Temptations in the Desert.  Look at them closely and you will recognize that they sum up all the temptations we can suffer in life, as what dazzles and distracts might make us wonder if God ought to have primacy of place in our lives.  Gold, position, power, these just might seem more important than we realize.  The powers of darkness might make us wonder if God will triumph.  Will we hear God’s plea, “Let me be your God.  You will be my people.”

Easter, in the northern hemisphere at least, comes in springtime.  Winter has done its worst and we have survived.  There have been ample signs of the power of darkness.  Horror stories of wars, famine, disease, exploitation of the weak and the poor, global horrors that have been put before us in the nightly news.

Some experienced estrangement from a loved one, the severing of a relationship thought to have been life long.  Some have kept the lonely vigil by the deathbed and watched and wondered how life would ever be endurable without the loved one.  Some might know the bitterest blow of betrayal by someone loved and trusted.  Some might have been brought to their knees by all of those things that tempt us to think in terms of tragedy – the ultimate defeat.

Is there something in our nature that demands the experience of betrayal, or loss, or defeat, before we can know the hope that is rooted in faith?  I believe that at this point on my faith journey I have a much keener understanding of Jesus’ Passion than I did before my long dark night began.  “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass me by; yet not my will but yours be done.”  “Do you betray me with a kiss?”  “Crucify him.  Crucify him!”  Then there was light – and with the light came forgiveness and freedom, resurrection, if you will.

Jesus commands us, if we would be his disciples, to take up the cross every day and follow him.  I used to think we were to choose the cross.  Now I know that Jesus didn’t choose his and neither do we.  Jesus’ was thrust on him.  And so will ours be.  When we embrace the cross then we know what discipleship means; but I don’t think we do before that embrace.

Pope Francis, from the first moments as pope, has urged the church to pick up the cross, to throw of the trappings of splendor and majesty and become a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  The shepherds are to shepherd in the midst of the sheep and smell like them.  Shocking declarations for those who saw the church as a means out of poverty to positions of power and authority.  What happens to authority if there are many paths to God, if even atheists can find their way to heaven?

The cross that Francis urges us to embrace is compassion.  Compassion means to suffer with.  It is when we suffer with the suffering that we meet Jesus, or rather, that we know Jesus.

The passage in all of Scripture that is dearest to my heart is the Emmaus story.  The two travelers’ s faith has been shattered by their witnessing Jesus’ destruction on the Cross.  “We had thought he was the one who would set Israel free.”  The mysterious Stranger that walked with them invited them to revisit what they had experienced and this time view it through the prism of faith: “Did not the Son of Man have to suffer these things and so enter into his glory?”   And after they had pressed the Stranger to stay with them and he, in Eucharistic language had taken the bread, blessed and broken it and given it to them, and when he had vanished from their sight, they remembered that they recognized him in the Breaking of the Bread.  They knew it was the Lord and that their hearts had been burning as they walked with him On The Way and he invited them to share in the new perspective.

The Emmaus story is important for us to remember.  Notice that the Lord did not revise recent history for the two.  He did not take away the horror of the passion and death.  They had happened.  But the Good Friday the two had witnessed was not about defeat, but about victory.  Easter dares us to trust the story and believe in the Mystery.  Maybe Easter can only hold sway in our lives when we have been brought to our lowest point, when our strength has been depleted, when everything else has failed us, and we are still alive.  The cross is still the cross and it can be horrible.  But in the light of Easter, it is also a sign of hope and promised victory.  “Behold, I make all things new!”

A favorite quote from a favorite saint, Thomas More, seems apt by way of conclusion: “Pray for me as I will for thee, that we meet merrily in heaven!”  I promise to do that.  Will you?

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST – 2016

 

God rest ye, Merry Gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!  Remember, Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day.  The carol might offend some today because of its sexist language.  Too bad there is no mention of merry gentlewomen.  Aside from that, the first time I hear the carol during the pre-Christmas season, I pause and reflect and wonder if people listen to the lyrics and get the message.  I was stopped once, waiting for the light to turn from red to green, when the carol sounded from my car radio.  A disabled person in a powered wheelchair crossed the street in front of me.  As he passed before my car, he paused, smiled, and waved at me before continuing on his way.  I waved back as I heard the words: Let nothing you dismay.  Nothing will, my friend, I thought, if you and the rest of us remember and believe as you obviously do.

Think about the word, dismay.  According to my dictionary, the transitive voice of the verb means, to cause sudden loss of courage or resolution from alarm or fear.  As has been the case for quite some time now, the news has been filled with stories that could fill with dismay even the stoutest heart.  There are reports of bigotry and bullying in grade and high schools.  Racial profiling and talk of building walls, deporting undocumented aliens, charting Muslims, and limiting their entry into this country, and the increased angst stemming from the widening chasm separating the classes in our society.  Domestic violence and the number of children being abused and killed by their parents, violence in the streets, the list goes one and on.  And we haven’t mentioned the wars and suicide bombings, and the children buried in the rubble.

Yet, the carol urges us to rest in God, be merry, and banish dismay.

There are those who think that the evening news and newspapers in general should be avoided during the weeks prior to Christmas and during the Christmas Season.  After all, negative stories kill the Christmas spirit.  Perhaps.  However, pretending that everything is fine while ignoring the plight of many of our brothers and sisters will not bring us into the real spirit of Christmas either.  The true spirit of Christmas is a defiant one that refuses to allow even the darkest night to overcome those who believe.  We must not forget that it may have been a starry night that we celebrate, but that would have been all that was right about it.

Using the Gospel imagery, we hear that abject poverty forced the young couple to take up temporary residence in a cave, a place not meant for human habitation.  The ox and ass that are part of crèches should serve to remind the onlooker that this wasn’t really the most appropriate site for birthing a baby.

We need to look deeper at the symbolism attached to the manger that is the Baby’s crib.  The manger is a feed trough, meant to hold the food to be consumed by the animals.  The wood of the manger speaks to the wood from which this Baby, when he reaches adulthood, will hang in crucifixion, having given himself over to be consumed body and blood by those who gathered at his table the night before.

The Shepherds, idealized by Rembrandt and other artists, ought to encourage the lowliest among us when we remember that they were in fact considered to be on the bottom rung of society, their company to be avoided, even shunned.  They were an unpleasant lot for the most part; yet typical of those with whom Jesus would come to practice table fellowship.  An accusation against the adult Jesus will be: This man welcomes (tax collectors, prostitutes and) sinners and eats with them.  The shepherds, having followed the directions of the heavenly visitors and found the Baby and Mary and Joseph, will look at the child and believe.  They will go out rejoicing and announce the Good News that now there is hope even for the likes of them.

What is the point of this demythologizing?  The romantic pastel scenes may well get in the way of the power of the message meant to be proclaimed this day and meant to give us reason to hope.  Everything in the Christmas Gospel narrative proclaims God’s infinite love for human kind, broken and sin-touched though we are.  God desires to embrace humanity and draw us into the community that is God.    God so loved the world that God sent the only begotten son.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Our God is not distant, aloof, nor remote, contrary to what those who emphasize God’s transcendence, practically to the exclusion of God’s immanence, would have the faithful believe.  It is not in earthly splendor that God comes, but as a vulnerable child, meek and humble.  Our God is a god who serves.

In whatever difficult situation people might find themselves, Christmas reminds them and us that this is what God has taken upon himself in the union between the human and divine that is Jesus.  The Second Person of the Trinity took on flesh.  The union between the Divine and the human is forever.  There will always be reason to hope.

Christ’s coming into the world is a source of consolation for those who feel lost and abandoned.  The dying and rising of Jesus that we renew in every Christmas Liturgy reminds those who mourn and those nearing death, that death has been conquered.  Life will prevail.  The infant in the manger challenges us all to be sharers, to be willing to give what we have so that all might have something of the essentials of life.

The word Socialism has been cast about with abandon as a criticism of some of the proposed socio-economic reforms Pope Francis is asking the people of God to embrace.  He calls for a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  He challenges the shepherds in the church to walk in the mud and be among the flock, knowing them and their needs.  He challenges them to be like the Good Shepherd and go out in search of those abandoned and made to feel unwelcome at the Table.   He has just announced that all priests may absolve the sin of abortion.  The pope urges all of us to recognize that we are all vulnerable, all one family, all sisters and brothers in this family of God.

The Infant confronts people of Christian faith.  In accepting Christ’s birth we must accept the reality of community and communal responsibility that Christ brings.  Before the 5,000 could be fed, remember, Jesus challenged the apostles: You give them something to eat.  A loose translation would have Jesus saying: It is your responsibility.  You do something about the problem.  You give them something to eat, even from the little that you have.  The amazing thing is how much there is when we trust and offer the little we have.  The command is to love.

Do not miss, then, that there are Eucharistic implications for the manger being the Baby’s first resting place.

It is traditional for us to wish each other Peace at Christmas.  A definition of peace that I cling to is this: Peace is the confident assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ.  In the midst of great suffering and turmoil there can still be peace if we remember that Christ conquered all that threatens us.  Christ will never let us be defeated forever.  God loves us in Christ now as if each of us were the only being in the universe.  God will love us for all eternity in that forever now that is the face-to-face vision of God.  That is the way God loves Christ.  That is the way God loves us in Christ and Christ in us.

As you are loved, love the little ones that others might not notice – the poor, the insignificant, the disabled, the aged, and all other classes of those vulnerable and easily marginalized.  Live the Gospel that would have us end sexism, racism, homophobia, and any other classification that would justify discrimination, bullying and abuse.  Better yet, consider yourself one of them, especially one of those you might be inclined to despise.  A word for that is compassion.  When you do, you will know God and him whom God has sent, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate and whose coming again in Glory we eagerly await.

Know that it will happen.  It is in Christ that we live and move and have our being.  Our peace comes from knowing that on the last day we will rise with him.  And all things warped by humankind’s inhumanity to their own kind will be restored and made right again.

Do not be dismayed.  Ever.  I wish you peace.

Sincerely,

Didymus