Real Progress Under the Real King

pilgrimsprogressWhen we think about the progress of our lives, we often have major milestones that we point to. And once we reach them, we have a sense of having moved forward or up a step. For example, when we are young, we spend a long time in elementary school pointing to and waiting for high school. When we enter the ninth grade, we have a sense that we have moved forward one step or up one rung on the ladder of life. And then we point towards the next thing. Perhaps it is college or technical school.

This pattern continues throughout the rest of our lives. For a long time there is the sense of climbing and progress. We climbed through our childhood education towards more education and then the beginning of some kind of career. We then climbed through our career. There comes a point, however, when we sense that the climbing or ascent is largely over, and we enter a period of neither up nor down but we know the descent is already beginning. This frequently comes when our work career and our marriage has reached a level of stability, and this is often the time when we have some kind of midlife crisis.

We can have the same sense in our faith lives as Christians. Many of us had some kind of spiritual experience that reminded us that God wants us and loves us and saves us. We burn like a candle during this exciting early stage of our faith journey. We might crack open our Bibles and read the good news, and we might open our Catechism and devour the teaching of the Church.

It’s exhilarating as we grow in knowledge and wisdom and in faith. There comes a point, however, when we realize we are going over the same territory again and again. Certainly in the confessional, we notice we are asking forgiveness for the same patterns of sin, and we might wonder where that sense of progress went. Some lose their sense of progress and they begin to enter a mid-faith crisis, where they wonder what it all means and why it’s so often the same thing over and over again. Continue reading

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Seeing as Bartimaeus Sees

I want to draw your attention to the dialogue between Bartimaeus and Jesus because it speaks to us and our relationship with God. Bartimaeus is at once a famous figure and at the same time an anonymous man. We don’t know his name, we only know he is the son of a man named Timaeus, and we know he was a blind beggar. He is famous for his cry, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” This is the Jesus Prayer, a prayer very popular in the Eastern Orthodox tradition and used as a mantra much as we use the Rosary in the Western Church. Repeating a familiar prayer like the Jesus Prayer or the Hail Mary keeps part of our mind busy so that the rest of our mind can be free to contemplate the fullness of God.

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Tuning in to the major thing

cbrownsThe readings for the 25th Sunday in ordinary time remind us that we live in a fallen world. The world we live in has separated itself from God’s plan for the world when he created it. We have concepts of law and justice and righteousness and transgressions but they no longer mean what God intended for them to mean. And that’s because of the fall of man.

The fall of man refers to that original decision by Adam and Eve, who stand as our parents, to turn away from the true relationship they had with our God because they found the lure of the knowledge of God too tempting to resist. In the garden of Eden Satan said that if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would know what God knows and be like God. This is a lie. It is a lie with disastrous consequences for Adam and Eve and all their children, which includes us.

The reading from the Book of Wisdom can be read as the attitude of the world in which we live towards the church in which we pray. The world has rejected God. The world has come up with a system of interaction which we call our culture or our society, and that system is now disconnected from God. That’s why the world is falling. The world has lost the state of grace because Adam and Eve turned away from God. When we were baptized, we were made members of the church and restored to a relationship of grace. Our baptism repaired the brokenness of that original sin which we inherited from Adam and Eve. Continue reading

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Prowling about the world

321px-Guido_Reni_031In the readings today, my brothers and sisters, we seem to have conflicting messages. We hear Moses in the book of Deuteronomy telling the Israelites that in their observance of the commandments of the Lord, they are not to add to what is commanded nor subtract from it. He tells the Israelites to observe the law carefully. However, in the gospel story from Mark, the law-abiding Pharisees ask a perfectly good question of Jesus. They ask why his disciples do not follow the law when it comes to preparing for a meal. Jesus rebukes them, and he calls them hypocrites. So we might ask ourselves, which is it Lord? Are we to follow the law carefully, or are we free to do what we please?

Scholars add up the laws given by Moses, and they come to a total of more than 600. That’s a lot of laws to keep track of, and you can see how a believer might focus on following the laws rather than integrating them into one complete relationship with God. Yet it was for the purpose of having a relationship with God that Moses gave the law. Our relationship with God we call the covenant. Unlike a contract, a covenant has no clauses. It is a powerful statement of personal commitment. As the Israelites were leaving Egypt for the Promised Land, the Lord said to Moses, “I will take you for my people, and I will be your God.” Continue reading

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Eyes of Faith

200px-FeedingMultitudes_Bernardo

My brothers and sisters – as we read the lesson the Old Testament, and as we read the gospel story today, we are reminded how difficult it is – for us on our earthly pilgrimage – to keep our eyes fixed on the good news of the love that our God has for us.

In the story from the second book of Kings, a man comes to Elisha – the man of God – with an offering of 20 barley loaves. When Elisha tells him to feed the people with it, the man sees 100 people and cannot see how 20 loaves will feed them all. Likewise, in the story from the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus asks Philip, “where can we find enough food to feed the large crowd?” When Philip learns from Andrew that they have only five loaves and two fish, he asks rhetorically, “what good are these for so many?”

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Cultivating the tender shoots

mustardseedThe readings today speak of planting and of growth. In the agrarian societies of Biblical times, everyone knew how trees and plants were cultivated, but we live in an age when we are disconnected from the patterns of cultivation and harvesting that put food on our plates. Patterns of planting and growing can be applied to our spiritual lives. Jesus makes that explicit when he uses these stories to illustrate the Kingdom of God.

The Gospel today tells us that the kingdom of God is fruitful, but we may not always know precisely how the fruit is to be borne. A man scatters seed on the land, Jesus says, and it sprouts and grows but the man knows not how. The Kingdom of God is not a place or a time. It certainly is Heaven, which is beyond space and time. It is also us, or perhaps more specifically, how we live out our faith each and every day.

We sometimes are resistant to doing the work of scattering seeds of love, patience, and kindness, because we want so much to know how they will grow into something beautiful. Jesus is whispering to us in this parable that we are to scatter those seeds trusting in his providence. Do the work, he seems to be saying, and leave the outcome to me. St. Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians when he tells them, “we walk by faith, not by sight.”

The kingdom of God is so fruitful we cannot count all the blessings that will come upon us and the entire world. The cedar trees described by Ezekiel come from tender shoots that grow into majestic trees that benefit birds  of every kind. When we were baptized, we were those tender shoots. If we inhabit the kingdom of God, we will grow into majestic trees that provide shade and comfort for more than we can count. Jesus is whispering to us, “Do not try to be God’s accountant, adding up his graces or his judgments.”

These readings tell us we are just to work on growing, but they do not really give us a plan of cultivation. Growth is something we notice after the fact. Cultivation is the work we put into growth. In an agrarian society, tools like plows and shovels and hoes were all used to till the soil and plant the seeds. They built cisterns to catch the rains, and irrigation channels to move the water from the cistern to the fields.

What are the plows and the shovels for us to use as we cultivate the Kingdom of God? I think they tie back to the Latin slogan Fr. Neil gave us in his homily two weeks ago. We are to cultivate how we worship (the rule of praying), and we are to cultivate our understanding of our faith (the rule of believing). If we do these, we will see growth in our lives, the rule of living.

The Mass is our rule of praying, and here it is prayed reverently. And how we worship reflects and corresponds with what we believe. The silence before Mass is not only a good thing, it is the right thing if we believe the Mass is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God who gave his only begotten Son to wipe away all our sins. When he prays, the priest says the words in the Mass book not because he cannot come up with good words on his own, but because he knows the focus of the Mass is Jesus Christ, not the priest. The music serves the Mass rather than the other way around because the musicians know they are liturgical ministers rather than performers. We all recite the Creed together because we are one body in Christ. Our rule of praying communicates and informs our rule of believing. In praying the Mass this way, we are preparing ourselves to serve God when we leave this sacred space. We are cultivating ourselves for spiritual growth through our worship.

Today is Father’s Day, and hopefully the kids are treating dad in a special way. I am a father myself, and I think the readings today speak to our growth as Fathers. An instructional manual would admittedly have been great, but most Dads had to cultivate themselves and trust that God would handle the outcome. We fathers have a perfect role model in our Heavenly Father. And through our personal behavior of worship and belief, we have taught our children the most important thing they can know: that God loves them and will take care of them.

And while this is Fathers’ Day, we cannot leave out Mom. Together, Dad and Mom have been living a life of self-sacrifice, of dying to self. That is just what Jesus did on the cross, and just what the apostles and saints did after Jesus rose to his throne in heaven. Parents show their kids that true love is a love of giving oneself to another for their good. True love is not always saying yes to whatever gets proposed. Sometimes the greatest thing a dad can do for his kids is to tell them no because he knows what they want to do is dangerous to their bodies or their souls. Parents teach their children wisdom, how to listen for God’s will and to respond to it, even if everybody else is turning away. Dad is here at Church when so many dads are on the golf course or on a boat fishing. By his rule of praying, Dad is communicating what he believes and who he worships.

So we thank our Heavenly Father for our earthly fathers, and we thank our earthly fathers for everything they do for us. We honor them, as we honor God. We pray that they continue to grow in their lives of faith, and we promise to keep growing in our lives, too.

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Justin evangelist

Today, on the feast of Justin the Martyr, we are reminded that in his last speech to his Roman executioner, Rusticus, that he died preaching the Good News.

Answering Rusticus’ question on the Christian teaching, Justin said:

Worship the God of the Christians.

In this simple statement, Justin acknowledges that there are other gods to worship, which would not have been news to Rusticus but is somehow news to us today. The God of Mammon never demands our worship, service, and adoration. He sneaks and slithers and hints and intimates. It is just what everyone else is doing, and so we don’t realize that we made a choice to follow Mammon.

Every day we choose God or ‘not God’ and many times throughout the day we are offered a chance to revisit that choice. Pray for the strength to turn away from sin and to accept the gift of salvation.

Justin Martyr, pray for us.

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