Archive for the ‘Messages’ Category

THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

Dear Friends in Christ,

These are difficult times.  The Coronavirus, now pandemic, in addition to the toll it is taking on lives, has resulted in many dioceses suspending Masses.  I cannot remember another time when such a restriction has been mandated.  No one knows how long this could last.  Some are hoping for only a couple of weeks.  Others say it could go on until August or later.  How can we get along for that long without Sunday Mass and the Sacraments?

This is an opportunity for us to remember that God lives in us even if we can’t go to church and Mass.  Christ lives in us even if we cannot receive Holy Communion.  What I would encourage you to do is to be church in your own household.  Gather as family around the Liturgy of the Word.  Share the Scriptures.  I hope my Didymus reflections will help you to delve deeply into the Word and to be transformed by them.  (My reflections will continue to come to you each week through this difficult time.) Sit in silence under the Word for a period and then share with each other what the Spirit has inspired within you.  Listen especially to the children.  You might be amazed by the wisdom of their responses.

After sharing and responding to the Liturgy of the Word, think of the intentions to be held up in prayer.  Pray for those suffering from the virus, those in isolation, and those with developed symptoms and those who have died.  Pray for those in war zones, and for those aliens at boarders seeking refuge.  Pray for our church that this time of trial will awaken in us a renewed awareness of our union in Christ.  And give thanks to God for the love that lives in us and unites us, not only for now, but for all eternity.

Then have a joyful breakfast together – or supper, depending on the time you choose to celebrate the Word.  As you beak bread together, remember.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

CHRISTMAS, THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD – December 25, 2019

Dear Friends in Christ,

God rest ye, Merry Gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!  Remember, Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day.  Recently, I saw an interview with Alec.  He is the severely disabled young man who is the spokesman for the Shriners’ Children’s Hospital.  Alec was born with a serious and life-threatening disability.  He has a rare fragile bone disease.  He is confined to a wheelchair.  He looks to be much younger than his 17 years.  He spoke with astounding maturity and wisdom in his interview.  Yes, he said, he has a short term life expectancy; but he feels privileged to be the spokesperson for other children who, like him, receive care from the Shriners’ Hospital.  He spoke of the blessings of his life, his love for his parents and siblings.  He thanks God for each day.  Let nothing you dismay, I thought.  And nothing will if we remember and believe what we celebrate in the Feast of Christmas.

An interesting word, dismay.  According to my dictionary, the transitive form of the word means to cause to lose courage or resolution from alarm or fear.  This year, as have the last several, has been filled with stories that could dismay even the stoutest heart.  There have been mass shootings practically every week, some of them taking place in mosques, synagogues and churches.  White Supremacists are vocal in their antisemitism.  Homeless people are living in tents and parked vans in many cities where prices of homes and high price of rentals put residences out of their reach.  Almost every day there are reports of domestic violence and violence in the streets.  Horrendous natural disasters have taken many lives and left survivors in dreadful conditions.

How long will the violence in the streets of Hong Kong continue?  People are fleeing their impoverished countries seeking a better life for their families.  Wars continue in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Children die of starvation while their helpless parents look on in grief.  There are children separated from their parents encaged at our boarders. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of those things that are daunting enough to cause dismay in even the strongest among us.  Yet the carol urges us to rest in God and be merry.

A friend told me yesterday that she thought stories like those listed above should be banished from the evening news during the Christmas season.  They just kill the spirit of Christmas.  Perhaps.  But pretending that everything is fine and 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 over come 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.  Abject poverty forced the young couple to take up temporary residence in a cave not meant for human habitation.  The ox and ass that are part of creches should serve to remind the onlooker that this is not the most appropriate site for the birthing of a baby.  

There is powerful symbolic meaning in the manger that is used for the Baby’s first crib.  It remains a feed trough, meant to hold the food to be consumed by the animals.  The wood of the manger reminds us of the wood from which the adult, now in infant form, will hang in crucifixion.  He will give himself over to be consumed body and blood by those who gather at his table.  The shepherds idealized by Rembrandt and other artists ought to encourage the lowliest among us when we remember that shepherds were in fact considered to be on the bottom rung of society and their company to be avoided.  They were an unpleasant lot for the most part, typical of those with whom Jesus would practice table-fellowship.  This man welcomes (tax collectors, prostitutes and) sinners and eats with them.

What is the point of this demythologizing?  It is not meant to be a Bah Humbug a la Ebenezer Scrooge.  The romantic pastel scenes typical of the season get in the way of the power of the message meant to be proclaimed this day, a message meant to give us reason to hope.  Everything in the Christmas gospel narrative proclaims God’s infinite love for humankind, broken and sin-touched as we are.  God desires to embrace humanity and draw us into the community that is God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God so loved the world that God sent the only begotten son.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  This God is not distant, aloof and remote.  It is not in earthly splendor that God comes, but as a vulnerable child, meek and humble.  In other words, in whatever difficult situation people might find themselves, Christmas reminds us that this is what God has taken upon himself in the union of the human and divine that is Jesus Christ.  That union is forever.  There will always be 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 prevails.  The infant in the manger challenges us all to be sharers, to be willing to give of 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 in our country.  The Infant confronts people of Christian faith.  In accepting Christ’s birth, in accepting that Christ dwells in us, we must accept the reality of community and communal responsibility that Christ brings.  Before the 5,000 were fed, remember, Jesus challenged the apostles: You give them something to eat.  A loose translation would have Jesus saying, It is your responsibility.  The command is to love.  

Live now.  Love now.  Remember and make the whole Mystery and wonder present.

It is traditional for us to wish each other Peace at Christmas.  Peace is the confident assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  In the midst of great suffering and turmoil there can still be peace if we remember that Christ has conquered all that threatens us and will never let us be defeated forever.  God loves us in the now, as if each of us were the only being in the universe, and 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.

As you are loved, love the little ones that others might not notice – the poor, the insignificant, the disabled, the aged, those in dementia, and all other classes of those vulnerable and easily marginalized.  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 and know 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.

I wish you peace.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – AUGUST 11, 2019

A reading from the Book of Wisdom 18:6-9
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 12:32-48

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.  Those are the words that begin the reading from Luke’s Gospel in this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word.  Sometimes I think every home should have those words inscribed, framed, and hanging on the wall in a prominent part of the house.  Do not be afraid.

Why is the Liturgy of the Word such an important part of our worship?  Because it is essential for us to hear the story, to remember, and to be renewed and transformed by what we have heard.  

When I was a child, the Liturgy of the Word was called The Mass of the Catechumens.  For that part of the Mass, those preparing for Baptism could be present, before they were dismissed with an instructor to discuss the teachings in the texts.  The baptized stayed for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  In those days, the Sunday Mass obligation was fulfilled if you were present for the Offertory, Consecration, and Communion.   So you could come late, arriving just  before the Offertory and then leave as soon as the priest shut the tabernacle door, signaling that Communion was over.

The Catholic faithful got the message that the first part of Mass was not all that important.  Protestants were Bible thumpers.  Catholics had Holy Communion.  Sadly, many Catholics never knew the Story beyond the Baltimore Catechism.  They were not known for reading the Scriptures.  They had their rosaries and devotional booklets instead.  Some still maintain the practice of coming late and leaving early, as long as they receive Holy Communion.  Alas.

That understanding changed with the Second Vatican Council.  Now Sunday Mass is comprised of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Christ is present in both.  Both transform the Assembly.  The faithful ought to be present for the entire Liturgy, from the Entrance Procession to the Final Blessing and Dismissal.  We don’t have the space to talk about the kind of participation that is called for that is in sharp contrast to the way pre-Vatican II Catholics heard Mass.  That is a discussion for another time.  We need to be reminded of the importance of the Scriptures in our lives.  As the people of God assembled, we need to know the story.  It is knowing the story that will keep us going through the difficult times, the times of darkness, and the times that otherwise might tempt us to despair.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom speaks to the Jewish people living in Egypt a century before Christ’s birth.  Surrounded by people who followed pagan practices, the Jews, who might be tempted to abandon their faith for the gods of the Egyptians, need to be reminded of their history.  God defeated those who held their ancestors captive.  God led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and into the Desert of Freedom in the Night of Passover.  Somehow those ancestors remained faithful to God during their long period of slavery and believed that God would conquer their foes.  The point is, God was faithful in the past.  God remains faithful.  So must the Jews in Alexandria remain faithful to their faithful God who will deliver them.

It would be worth your time to pause here and read the whole of the 11th chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews and so put into a context this week’s second reading.  The author puts before the Hebrews the long litany of faithful witnesses in their ancestry.  It is important for them and us to recognize that that fidelity was constant even though there were periods of hardship and, sometimes, little to support their faith.  There are many in these times who are finding little to support their faith and are quitting the practice of their faith.  They may still be believers, but the current scandals compel them to look elsewhere for faith support.

We call Abraham our ancestor in faith.  Abraham responded to God’s call and set out on a journey without knowing where the trek would take him.  God promised that Abraham and Sarah would have countless descendants, as numerous as the stars in the heavens or the sands on the seashore.  Abraham and Sarah had advanced to the threshold of old age without Sarah’s giving birth to a son.  Yet, they remained faithful.  In time, God’s time, not theirs, it happened.  Isaac was born.  We heard about that just a couple of weeks ago.  Remember?

All those witnesses in Chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews experienced hardships that might have broken lesser souls; but they persevered in faith.  We, 2000 years after the Letter to the Hebrews was written, can add to that list of patriarchs and prophets, our litany of saints, those from every age of the church up to and including those of recent history – Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Pope John XXIII, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Dr. Tom Dooley, Damian of Molokai, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and many, many more, including your family members gone before you.  Take pride in their stories.  Be encouraged to continue on the Way of Faith.

It is important for us to remember how many in our history were martyrs for their faith.  What the world saw as defeat and tragic ends, we see as the triumph of the cross and the martyrs’ victory in Christ.  We know that they live in glory.  Knowing that, we ought to be encouraged when our own faith weakens.

So we come to the gospel.  Just prior to this reading, Jesus has been teaching the disciples about how complete their trust and faith in God must be.  They must live lives that proclaim that trust.  God feeds the birds of the air.  God has made the lilies of the field more splendid than Solomon and all his glory.  God has placed humankind above all the other orders of creation in this world.  So we should not rely on things, but seek to give our lives over entirely to God.  And the rest will follow.

That provides us with the context for today’s gospel.  Hear Jesus say, Do not be afraid.  Disciples should live with the freedom of the children of God.  The kingdom awaits the faithful ones.  Live in the poverty of spirit; live with confidence and without fear.  Treasure awaits in heaven.

What is there about us, and how we are living in the world, that would give evidence that we have taken this teaching to heart, and that we believe it?

I remember a young man, a sailor, in the first hospital where it was my privilege to minister to the sick and the dying.  His first response when he was told that his cancer would kill him was frustration and anger.  He stared at the ceiling and clenched his jaw when I stopped by to see him shortly after the doctors had broken the news to him.  It was not a good time for a visit.  I told him that I would stop by tomorrow and we could visit then.  When I arrived the next day, he was transformed.  He had left his bed and was visiting other patients with similar conditions to his own.  He told them not to give up hope because God loved them.  That was his mission through the remaining days of his illness.  He asked me to promise that when the end was near for him I would bring him Holy Communion for his final journey.

The hospital called at three in the morning and said that his time was here.  In those days it took me about 20 minutes from the time I received the call to the time I was on the hospital floor.  I remember walking down the hall toward his room.  The light was on and he sat in his bed, propped up by pillows.  His eyes searched anxiously and then relaxed when he caught sight of me.  He was not able to talk.  He could not lift his arms.  I held the Host before him for his proclamation of faith that now consisted of a nod.  I broke off a fraction of the Host, placed it on his tongue, and held a straw for him to sip a bit of water.  He swallowed.  He smiled.  I sat by his bed and held his hand.  In an hour he went to glory.  I ask him every now and again to pray for me because I am still on the journey.  I want to be faithful to the end the way he was.

That is what this gospel is really about, perseverance to the very end.  There is work to be done, Jesus says.  A great deal has been entrusted to disciples – the handing on of the kingdom.  In this period between the resurrection and the Lord’s return, the disciples must do the work that the Lord entrusted to them.  Even if the return is delayed, that expectation should not waver.  Remember Abraham and all those other witnesses?  Remember the saints in our tradition?  They were faithful to their vocation over the long haul, even when the Master delayed his return.  So should we be.  Remember that we belong to a servant church.  Our witness is expressed in service, doing what Jesus did, the way he did it, among the poor, the aliens, the disenfranchised, the sick, the imprisoned, the outcasts, and any other sisters and brothers devalued by contemporary society.

We complete the Liturgy of the Word and transition to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is about renewing and remembering.  Jesus said: Do this in my memory.  That translates, do this and I am present.  Jesus said to the disciples, to us, do Eucharist.  Not passive spectators as our ancestors might have been, the faithful are called to exercise the Priesthood of the Baptized and to co-celebrate with the presider in the celebration of the Eucharist.  The faithful are called to full, active, and conscious participation in the celebration of Eucharist.  In doing this, the Assembly is transformed into the Body of Christ that they recognize in the Bread and the Wine, the Christ they recognize in the Word that was proclaimed, and the Christ present in the Assembly.

Remembering all who have done this before us, we share in the meal.  We are strengthened to continue on the way until Christ comes again.  And we are sent out to be that presence in the market place.

There is a final note that we need to remember.  Notice in the parable what Jesus says the master will do when he returns and finds those servants faithful to the tasks entrusted to them.  He will gird himself, have (the disciples) recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.  Imagine that.  Talk about a turning of the tables.  The Son of God serving the disciples is an incredible image to contemplate.  Unimaginable as it is, we have the Lord’s word on it that that is his intention when he returns.  In the meantime, doesn’t that eliminate any excuse we might have for being other than servants now?

Think about it.  And do not be afraid, Little Flock.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus