From the fullness of the heart

This is the eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, and this year it is the last Sunday before we start the penitential season of Lent. The three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Today’s readings really drive home the importance of prayer as the foundation of a life in Christ.

You’ve probably been told that you should not judge a book by its cover, but when you go into the bookstore, it’s the cover that catches your eye. Publishers know this. That’s why they spend so much time designing the cover the book. Romance novels seem to have a couple embracing. Thrillers have a completely different look, and political memoirs are always at least 800 pages. You kind of know what you’re getting into by the cover of the book.

Jesus uses parables and everyday images in his teaching because they are easy to grasp but also have very deep meanings. Instead of books and their covers, He uses fruit trees. He tells his disciples that nobody picks figs from a thornbush. Of course they don’t. You know it’s a fig tree because you find figs on it, and you find thorns on a thornbush. Continue reading

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Our Fortified City

Orthodox_icon_of_Prophet_Jeremiah_large

We read in Jeremiah today of a promise made to the prophet as he is sent out on his mission. The promise is that God knew him and loved him from all eternity, and as God sends Jeremiah out, he tells the prophet he is a fortified city. Jeremiah must gird himself with his traveling gear, but he goes knowing he can take on the opponent, in confidence of the strength of his city defenses. And the Psalm continues and expands on that, a song to God as the refuge, the rock and the fortress.

God is our rock against the accusations, and the lies, and the temptations of the Devil. Only in God will we find the strength we need to defend ourselves against the Devil. Satan will never stop hunting us. He is the model for all those Terminator movies: a soulless, untiring, pursuer of his target, and he will crush that target upon acquisition.

Now we know today that Jesus defeated Satan through his death on a Cross and the resurrection at Easter. We know Jesus won the battle, but somehow Satan did not acknowledge that defeat. Satan has not given up his pursuit of us, 21 centuries after that day at Calvary. We are still hunted by the devil, but Jesus did not leave us utterly alone. We are, in many respects, right where Jeremiah and the Psalmist found themselves. We must rely on the Lord to be our sure defense against the power of the Devil. Continue reading

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The Wedding at Cana

This past Sunday was the second Sunday in Ordinary time, and the Gospel reading in Year C was the story in John 2 of Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.  When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” (And) Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they

took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. [John 2:1-11]

Mary figures prominently in this story.  I am always struck by Mary’s role as an intercessor and as Mother of the Church, both of which are found in this story.  In her role as intercessor, she alerts Jesus when the people are in need.  Here they need wine ifthe_marriage_at_cana_decani the wedding feast is to continue according to custom.  Those of us who pray “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death” know from this Bible story our entreaties to her are efficacious and appropriate.

 

Mary instructs the people at Cana to “do whatever He tells you.”  This is also her word to the Church: “Obey the Word.”  The Bible can be reduced to two words: Love and Obey.  We do not fully understand the first word and we understand all too well the second word, so God gives us the whole Bible to help us comprehend the former and embrace the latter. Mary’s immaculate conception is to me the only sensible explanation for her lack of difficulty in obeying God.  Full of grace, she was not structurally inclined to challenge God or disobey Him.  As Mother of the Church, she encourages us to overcome our structural inclinations and obey the Word.

The message of hope and promise in the changing of water into wine in the story of the wedding at Cana is that if we choose to do whatever He tells us, He can transform the ordinary into something extraordinary.  Just as the servants dared to draw out some of the water they had just put in a stone jar and take that water to the wine steward for tasting, so are we called to obey Him even if what He tells us to do is foolishness to the world.  That this is not easy is implied in the story.  The servants knew they were taking water to the wine steward for tasting, yet they did it.  They knew a miracle had taken place when the wine steward remarked on the wine’s quality.  The wine steward made a comment on the normal ordering of wines at a party, but the servants saw something far more interesting and important.  Ordinary things are made extraordinary and even Holy when lives are led in obedience to God.  By doing whatever He tells you, you will see Him more clearly, just as the servants saw more clearly than did the wine steward.  Nothing could be more ordinary than pouring water into a jar, yet this is the story we tell when we move into the season of Epiphany when the Son of Man is made manifest.  We tell this story because this pouring of ordinary water was done by people open to the power of God, and that openness played a significant part in the power of the first miracle of Jesus.

Mary’s encouragement must be powerful, for the servants knew they were taking water to a wine steward but did it anyway.  When we react with dismissal or condescension upon hearing that someone else payed for Mary to wrap her mantle of protection around him, let us be reminded of how her mantle protected and strengthened the faith of the servants at the wedding in Cana.

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The human person

I had a nice conversation with a young adult whose sister will be married in a few months to a wonderfully kind and fun young man. My young conversationalist is a man of simple faith, not one who attends church on a regular basis but one who believes in the Christian God. Like so many believers who don’t work particularly hard at growing in a intellectual understanding of their faith, my conversationalist does not have a good way to frame the various emotional struggles he sees in himself and in his family.

When these types of questions come up, they rarely come up in a quiet, thoughtful, convenient time and place. My conversationalist shared his observations at a cocktail party, where people were talking and laughing and drinking about surface things rather than deep things. I tried to share in ways that I hoped he would understand a basic understanding of who we are as human beings.

I shared with him, as I share with many, my reflection on the selection of St. Peter as the rock of the Church. On the night of Jesus’s passion, Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. One can make a good argument that the sin of Peter that night was no less than the sin of Judas that night. The difference between Peter and Judas was that when Peter realized what he had done, he wept and eventually sought reconciliation with his God. Judas, on the other hand, despaired of reconciliation and took his own life. Yet it is St. Peter, a model of weakness, to whom Christ gave the keys to the kingdom of God.

I shared with my conversationalist that there is an Old Testament parallel to St. Peter in the person of King David. At the time of year when he as King should have been out campaigning, he was lounging around the castle and the sight of a pretty woman bathing led him to commit the sin of adultery. He compounded that sin with the sin of murder when he arranged for his lover’s husband to be killed in battle. Yet King David was the model King, the one whose heir everyone was looking for.

Just as Saint Peter sought reconciliation when he realized his sin, King David was filled with contrition when the prophet Nathan pointed out to him the seriousness of his crimes. Psalm 51 is the song David wrote revealing his sorrow at his sin and his confidence in God’s acceptance of his confession.

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The King is Coming as an Infant

The_Embrace_of_Elizabeth_and_the_Virgin_MaryThis is the fourth and last Sunday of the season of Advent. Advent is the season in the church year when we anticipate the coming of the King. The King is coming. We know he is coming in the flesh in just a few days, when he comes as a little baby born in a manger because there was no room at the inn. We know he is coming in all his glory at the end of time, when the world as we know it ceases to be, and he makes a new creation and gathers into his heavenly kingdom all who loved him. And we know he is coming each and every day in how we choose to live the days that he has given us.

Why did our king choose to come in the flesh in the way that he did? The Christmas story is perhaps the best-known story in all of human history. We have been reminded in the readings over the last few weeks and today that he was born in meek and humble circumstances. Our Advent season has been a season of waiting for the coming of the King. The history of the Hebrew people was one sustained experience of waiting for the coming of the King, the descendant of David whose rule would be everlasting, and whose kingdom would never end. Continue reading

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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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