Archive for the ‘Messages’ Category

THE FEAST OF PENTECOST – B – May 20, 2018

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:19-23

Dear Reader,

Much of what passes for religious art does nothing for me.  That may well be because the piety depicted is often a type with which I cannot identify.  Invariably the saints are dower and epicene.  They are untouchable, ethereal and into way part of the world I inhabit.  Insipid is a word that comes to mind.  I do not mean to be irreverent or disrespectful.  I am not an iconoclast.  Religious art ought to me much more.  The struggle of those on The Way ought to be depicted in such a way that their courageous character might emerge and inspire.

I visit churches to look at the art.  I want to encounter representations of people whose humanity I share.  Granted the windows, statues, and paintings represent those already in glory.  But I want to be encouraged by them as they were in this world.  I want to see their fragility, and to see examples of those who came to understand with Paul that I can do all things in him who strengthens me.  And, apart from you I can do nothing.  Jesus Christ and the Spirit he breathed on the disciples are the only explanation for the success of those who walked in the trenches and engaged in the struggle. 

I think of a wood-carved statue of Monica, Augustine’s mother that I had the privilege to stand before and ponder.  The woman stood, head uncovered, staff in hand.  She faced into the wind that tugged at her hair and garments.  She stood undaunted and defiant.  Valiant is the word that comes to mind.

Years ago I visited the shrine to the Ugandan Martyrs.  Charles Lwanga and 21 of his companions in faith were tortured and burned to death for their faith.  Some were catechumens, not yet baptized.  It is declared that each of them went to his death singing Christ’s praises, eager to see him in Paradise.  Not one of them cried out in anguish.  A circular chapel over the place of execution has 21 stained-glass windows, one dedicated to each martyr.  It is impossible not to be moved, and not to have your faith strengthened by the Martyrs’ witness.

What occasions these thoughts on this day of Pentecost is the stained-glass window in a church I visited recently.  It is supposed to represent the Feast we celebrate.  I gazed at the window and thought of the words in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles: And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, (a hurricane, perhaps) and it filled the entire house in which they were…and there appeared tongues of fire.  The placid group in perfectly flowing robes seemed all too tranquil, free of agitation and disturbance and unlike what would be the reaction of anyone caught in such a storm.  Remember, at that time, they were lock in that room for fear that their faith in the Risen One might result in their joining him in crucifixion.  

Wouldn’t their clothes be ruffled by the wind?  Wouldn’t fright register on a face or two?  Wouldn’t at least one hold his/her hands to his/her ears against the noise?  I don’t know about you, but I cannot imagine sitting calmly while fire descended and began to dance over my head.  This hadn’t happened before.  The group did not know what all of this meant, or how they would be transformed in the moment.  They did not know what Jesus had meant when he said, behold, I make all things new.  Where is their terror as the world turns upside down and they come to realize that they will never be the same again?

I am reminded of the words of a theologian who remarked that she was surprised that safety equipment was not distributed to people as they came into the church for worship.  Don’t they have any idea what they could be in for?  Her question: What if it were to happen this time?  What if we, the assembled, were to see clearly what we believe happens when we baptize?  How could we calmly watch as one of our beloved descends into this pool of abundant water that is both womb and tomb?  Wouldn’t we tremble as the earth shakes and the heavens open and all creation pays heed to the voice calling the one by name, declaring her/him to be My Beloved One?  That is what the Voice said of Jesus in the Jordan.

Wouldn’t we need seatbelts and life jackets if the Word washed over us and, broken upended, entered and transformed us?  Wouldn’t we have to hang on for our dear lives if, as hands are raised over us and the elements of bread and wind on the altar, if when the Spirit is invoked, like the bread and the wine, our very substance yielded to be transformed into the sacramental presence of Christ?  And what about our having to be broken and distributed to be Christ’s loving presence in the world?  This action that is Eucharist demands all this of those who take and eat.

We celebrate Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit.  This is the birthday of the Church.  Shouldn’t we experience the pangs, the labor pains, as this new creation is brought forth?  I wish our icons and our Liturgical celebrations confronted us, shook us to the core, and called us to that new life that Christ’s dying and rising began.  We do not need to be lulled by romantic piety.  

It seems impossible to identify with those who walked The Way before us if they are so stoic.  I want our art and our rituals to make us realize the wonder of the call and the impossibility of responding without our yielding to and being empowered by the Spirit.  Then we could stand in awe as possibilities dawned on us.  Imagine what would happen if, as did that gathering on the first Pentecost, we threw open the doors and, filled with Christ’s love and animated by the Spirit, we rushed into the public square and spoke heart to heart to those we met there.

Of course we might have to pour out our lives to convince them.  But isn’t that what this is all about?

Sincerely yours in Christ and in the Spirit,

Didymus 

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SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – B – May o6, 2018

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
A reading from the first Letter of John 4:7-10
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 15:9-17

 

Dear Reader,

As the Father loves me, so I also love you.  Remain in my love.  A verb’s tense has everything to do with the impact of the statement.  Here the tense is present active.  That means it is happening now and is on going.  The words are addressed to you.  Hear what Jesus is saying to you and dare to believe it.

But there is a problem.  There are times when we need immediate experiences to support what faith declares.  If one has never known what it means to be loved, how can s/he accept that that one is loved by God?  When all the signs point to the contrary, it is easy to conclude that one is unlovable, even is beyond the pale of God’s love.  Or, perhaps God has stopped loving.

Many years ago I taught a religious education class in a prison.  I was young, naïve and convinced of my ability, dare I say of my gift for teaching.  In an early class, I used the above text as my starting point.  I wanted to awaken in the hearts of my hearers a sense of their worth in God’s eyes.  I rhapsodized about the wonders of the Father’s love and how every earthly father’s love reflected and expressed the Father’s love.  The class grew restive.  One man crossed his arms and legs and turned to the side, signaling that he was tuning out.  Other’s found different ways to convey the same message.  Some rolled cigarettes and proceeded to light up.  The hour dragged interminably on and so did I.  Invitations for questions or responses fell like millstones inn a pond.  At last the bell sounded that ended the class.  One by one the inmates rose and walked out.  Not one said a word to me.  No one said, See you next week.

Devastated, I made my way to the Director’s office and poured out the details of my failure, protesting all the while how well I had prepared for the presentation.  Silence.  He drummed his fingers on his desk.  I fidgeted.  Then he looked up at me and said: What did you expect?  I told him that I thought the class would be moved, comforted, even consoled as I reminded them how they were loved by the Father, just the way the Father loves Jesus.  But they would not hear me.  When I squirmed like a fish on the end of a line, he smiled and asked: Do you know what their experience of father is?  I could only respond with a blank stare.  The director went on to explain what now seems so obvious.  You have a good experience of fatherhood from your own father.  Am I correct?  So it is easy for you to transfer that experience to God.  Many of these men have no such experience in their memory.  Some have no memory of a father in their lives.  Some remember an abusive father.  They can’t make the leap you ask of them to accept that God loves them like a father.  They have no idea what that means.

What your present situation is may determine how you will hear this Sunday’s gospel.  If you know what it means to be loved, if you know what it means to be accepted for who and what your are, if you are secure in relationship, if life is going reasonably well for you, you might be able to revel in this text.  As the Father loves me, so do I love you.  If, on the other hand, things are not going well, if a primary relationship in your life has failed, if nothing is happening that speaks to your dignity and worth, then you just might be tempted to cry out: Prove it.  Or, do what the inmates did, turn away and ignore.

There is no easy answer.  Sometimes the demands of faith mean believing in spite of so many signs to the contrary.  But look at the One in whom we believe.  Where were the tangible signs that the Father loved him?  There may have been crowds.  There may have been miracles that followed his touch and his command.  But all in all, he was a failure.  Some said he was crazy.  Some said he was possessed by the devils.  No wonder he took to the hills and spent nights alone in prayer.  How else could he rest in and be strengthened by that love that was his source and his life?  The Agony in the Garden was Jesus’ torment that he ultimate failure he faced in his impending arrest and crucifixion might be construed to be a sign of the absence of the Father’s love.  The Father could will to let this chalice pass from Jesus without his having to drink.  Easter proved his vindication.

That may be why Jesus says to us: Remain in my love.  How do we do that?  By loving the way Jesus loves.  Love is not a feeling.  It is a decision.  The decision means pouring out yourself in service of others because that is what Jesus does.  It means making a fundamental option for the poor because you recognize Jesus in the poor.  It means affirming that the poor are your brothers and sisters in God’s family.  It means loving the ones society deems unlovable, the outcasts, the scorned, and the shunned.  It means forgiving the unforgivable even if what they do to you feels like crucifixion.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

In spite of whatever else might be happening, listen to what Jesus says in this sixth week of the Easter celebration.  To follow Jesus means to keep his commandments.  His commandments are not the Decalogue, not that they are negated, but the fact is, Jesus has only one commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.  By this will all know that you are my disciples.  The result will be an ongoing relationship of love with Jesus.  Some would rather think of themselves as Jesus’ slaves, as subservient to Jesus.  But, believe it or not, that is not what Jesus wants.  I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.  Can you accept the fact that you are an equal with Jesus, a co-heir with Jesus, and like Jesus, that you are God’s beloved?  Pretty heady stuff, isn’t it?  Heady or not, this is what this gospel proclaims.

If we enter into Easter and believe, there are a number of things we have to accept.  These can be boiled down to basic truths: we are God’s friends, God’s intimates, and God’s children.  That means a different kind of relationship from the one we might first have thought was ours when we first came to believe.  What becomes apparent is that our God is not one who wants to lord it over people, to have people grovel before God.  Ours is a God who pleads with us to let God be our God so that we can be God’s people.  Would you believe that God wants to serve us rather than to be served?  Think of the Last Supper and who it was who washed the disciples feet.  All God asks of us is to do what might seem the impossible were it not for the fact that Jesus empowers us when we live in his love.

What did I do to deserve this?  In this context, that is not a bad question to ask.  Still, the answer should astound.  You and I did nothing to deserve this.  It didn’t begin with us.  It began with God and with God’s son, Jesus.  It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will endure.  See yourself seated under the fig tree and hear Jesus tell you that he saw you there even before you knew anything about Jesus.  That is what Jesus said to Nathan.  Nathan heard and believed.

You did not find God.  God found you.  God seized you, identified you with Jesus and loves you with the same love he has for Jesus.  Like it or not, that is the way it is.  There may not be that much going on in your life right now that would support that fact, but the fact remains.  There might not be that much positive going on in the world right now that would support that fact, but the fact remains.  You are the beloved of God.

There is a paradox that I leave you with today.  You cannot rest in this love.  You must live it.  If you rest in it you will begin to doubt it.  If you live it and pour yourself out in imitation of that love, others will come to believe in that love, too, even when you are finding it hardest to believe.  They are the fruit that remains.  Many of those we call saints endured long periods of darkness that terrified.  St. Theresa of Avila.  St. John of the Cross.  St. Teresa of Calcutta.  St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Charles de Foucault.  And many more.  Their dark nights increased their capacity to love and be loved.  That may not be a comfort now, in the midst of your struggle.

Perhaps what you have to do is use Jesus’ words as a mantra in your prayer: As the Father loves me, so I love you.  Remain in my love.  Could this be the challenge that inspires the teachings coming from Pope Francis?  Is this what he sees in a poorer church serving the needs of the poor?  In the end it is about love.

We must remember and be motivated by remembering what caused the initial spread of Christianity in the midst of the Roman persecution.  See how these Christians love one another.  A thirst was created for that same experience of love.

So we assemble at the Table to continue our Easter celebration.  We do what Jesus does.  We take bread, bless it, and break it.  We bless the cup.  Jesus continues to pour himself out for us.  We take and eat.  We take and drink.  And renewed and refreshed, we are sent to do this in my memory.  We are sent to do this until Jesus comes in glory to take us to live in that love in a glory that will never end.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

Didymus  

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER – B – April 15, 2018

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 3:13-15, 17-19
A reading from the first Letter of John 2:1-5a
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 24:35-48

Dear Reader,

Isn’t it strange that Catholics have the reputation for being overly burdened with guilt?  To have a sense of guilt, one must have a sense of sin, that there is such a thing as acting contrary to the way God would have one act.  While it seems apparent today that there is ample evidence of the lack of that sense, of the desire to live a lifestyle that says anything goes, there is also ample evidence that many have a desire for meaning and purpose in their lives, for an ethic that ennobles, and for a reason to hope.

It is healthy to have a consciousness of sin, past or present, in one’s life.  There is nothing unhealthy about admitting to having done something wrong, regretting the action, and wishing to atone.  In this fifty-day Feast of Easter, we exult because we believe that Christ triumphed over sin, suffering and death.  We believe that Christ atoned for our sins and bestowed forgiveness upon us.  During this long Easter Day Festival, we rejoice with those among us who have passed through the Waters of Baptism where they, too, died to sin and rose to be identified with Jesus.  They have begun to walk with Jesus on the Way.

They, like we have been fourteen days on this Easter journey so far this year.  That is long enough for some of the perhaps naïve enthusiasm we felt in the light of the Easter Candle in the Vigil Night, when they stood wet and reborn on the other side of the Font and we glowed in the renewal of our baptismal promises.  We all thought we were through with sin forever.

Now, fourteen days later, there may be evidence that we have not yet achieved the perfection longed for.  The newly baptized with their promises fresh in their minds may have been stunned that some of the old and former ways still exercise a hold over them.  We, on the other hand, with years of experience to draw from, may not be quite as shocked that some of our moral weaknesses still persist.  There may be evidence of growth, but there is evidence of sin, too.  Should we then succumb to guilt, the way our ancestors in the faith are reputed to have done?  I don’t think so, not if we take in the Liturgy of the Word proclaimed on this Third Sunday of Easter.

Each of the readings speaks to us of sin and, yes, of our guilt for sin.  But they rush on to put before us the reality of our Advocate who through his dying and rising offered himself in satisfaction for our sins, and the sins of all of humankind.  Remember that bumper stick that had some popularity some time ago?  Christians aren’t different; they’re just forgiven!  That may be a bit simplistic; but it is the truth.

In the first reading Peter confronts the crowd of Jews gathered in the Temple area.  They have witnessed a miracle at Peter’s hands and wonder about his powers.  Peter is quick to give the credit where the credit is due.  It is in the Name of Jesus that the miracle happened.  This opens the door for Peter to place Jesus in Jewish history, in line with God’s promise that began with Abraham, continued through Isaac and Jacob, and now results in Jesus’ glorification as the holy and Righteous One, the same one the audience denied and handed over to be crucified.

Is Peter laying a guilt-trip on the Jews?  Not if you listen carefully.  What was done by them was done out of ignorance.  What is possible now is the acceptance of Christ as the fulfillment of what was foretold in the Scriptures as the Messiah who would suffer and so change radically the image of Messiah that they had cherished and longed for.  With that acceptance your sins may be wiped away.  They are not left to wallow in guilt, but are invited to conversion, forgiveness and new hope.

The second reading from John’s first Letter places us all under that umbrella as sinners once forgiven, but who know what it means to relapse into sinning again.  Notice that John does not pummel us.  Rather he accepts the fact of human weakness and rushes on to remind us that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.  He is expiation for our sins and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.  At the same time, John does not tell us to sin with abandon.  If we believe, if we profess to know Jesus and have him in our lives, then we will strive after the perfection that God has in mind for us.  It is God’s work.  It is Jesus who accomplishes it.  It is grace that empowers.

Today’s Gospel begins with the conclusion of the Emmaus story and the two disciples who recognized Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread.  They returned to Jerusalem and to the other disciples to recount what had happened on the Road.  Our own experience is recapped in their story.  Remember when they said that their hearts burned as the Risen One explained the Scriptures to them?  Someone brought each one of us to Jesus by telling us about him.  Our hearts burned in the recognition.  Then we came to know Jesus in the Scriptures and in the celebration of the Sacraments, in Baptism and Eucharist.  Now we see him, come face to face with him through his presence in the Assembly, those with whom we gather in Eucharist.  That’s a whole other area we can discuss sometime, how Jesus is present in a threefold way when we gather to celebrate Mass – in the Word, in the Bread and Wine, and in the Assembly.  Do not miss that means a presence in each one of us.

Savor the words the Risen Christ speaks to us at the conclusion of today’s Gospel: Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nation, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.

You and I are witnesses of these things.  We are witnesses because we know what it means to sin, what it means to repent, and what it means to be forgiven.  We are growing in our understanding of what it means to be on the Way with the Risen One.  With all that in mind, do you see now why every Eucharist we celebrate concludes the same way – with our being sent to witness?  If we believe, then we must translate what we celebrate into action and thereby make it possible for others to recognize Christ, to experience his mercy and forgiveness through his love manifested in our acts of Charity.

So, do you see why it doesn’t make sense that we Catholics have the reputation for walking under the cloud of perpetual guilt?  What makes much more sense would be our growing reputation for welcoming all and inviting all to know the forgiveness that is ours in Jesus, the hope that all who come to him will live with him forever.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

Didymus