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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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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