Lent is Love

Today is the second Sunday of Lent, so the Lenten disciplines have either taken hold or they haven’t really. Hopefully, we have added some prayer to our lives that wasn’t there, or we have changed some aspect of our regular prayer activity. And prayer is some form of communication or conversation with god. In prayer, we talk to our Lord and we listen to our Lord. Hopefully we have added some aspect of almsgiving to our life in Lent. Almsgiving is giving away money to people who have less. It is a work of Mercy. And almsgiving helps us grow in being more generous people. And hopefully the third Lenten discipline, fasting, which is giving up something that is good, has helped us grow in our understanding of detachment. Remember, we’re not supposed to give up something for Lent that we shouldn’t be doing. That’s why we give up peppermint ice cream rather than cursing. And the something we give up should be something that we could do on Sunday, because the Sundays of Lent are not included in the 40 days of the Lenten fast. Sundays are feast days, even in Lent.

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Standing Up for Truth

Two weeks ago on the Baptism of the Lord, Father preached about how all of us through our own baptism are called to the three-fold ministry of Jesus Christ. In our own way, we are priests, prophets, and kings. The Priest offers sacrifices and prayers to God for others. And we can do that personally, offering our little sacrifices and prayers so that we and the whole world can grow in holiness. We go to the King for justice. And in our own lives, all of us can stand for justice; we can do little things to promote justice in our families and neighborhoods. And finally, the job of the Prophet is to speak what God has told him to say. Many times, the prophet doesn’t want to say what God tells him to say, and we certainly see that in the story of Jonah in the Old Testament today. But God makes His prophets speak; he makes them stand up for truth. He makes them stand up for truth even if they may encounter danger for doing so.

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Eight Days a Week

holyfamilyToday we celebrate the Holy Family, which falls within the Octave of Christmas. In the church calendar, only Christmas and Easter get an octave. An octave is the eight day celebration of that feast, so for Christmas Day and for a full week we are celebrating Christmas Day. We do the same thing during Easter week. For eight days in a row the day takes on the full solemnity that principal Feast whether it’s Christmas or Easter.

Christmas and Easter represent the two most astounding claims of the Christian faith, and each of these feasts, these claims, are preceded by a long period of preparation. On Christmas we make the astounding claim that God became Man. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. No other religion claims that God became Man. We are given the period of Advent to prepare ourselves to accept and to celebrate this radical claim of our faith. 

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Watch

“My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus said this to Pontius Pilate during his Passion, but Jesus is King and Lord of the universe. He will come, so be awake. He will come to destroy the creation that God willed into existence. But he won’t destroy us. We were made in God’s image, and our souls are eternal. When Creation is destroyed, we won’t be. It doesn’t end in nothingness for us. We will survive. Somewhere. Either in the bliss of God’s presence or the suffering agony of his absence. If you have been paying attention to the theme of the readings for the past eight or nine Sundays, you might be getting a little down, for we have had two solid months of “judgement Day is coming.”

As Advent begins, we are getting ready for the coming of Christ in the manger on Christmas night, but the lectionary is still talking about his second coming. In today’s Gospel we are warned to watch. I think why the Church spends so much of the year reminding us of the second coming is because the Devil spends all his time distracting us from thinking about it. Who spent this weekend shopping? Did Judgment Day pop into your head while you were online or at the mall? Probably not. If I hadn’t been preparing this homily, it probably would not have popped in mine.

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Vainglory or the Shema

The theme of the Gospel readings over the past few weeks has been a long and sometimes sharp reminder that there will be a final judgment, and the Lord our God is the judge.

We had the two sons, one told his father he would do the work but did not and the other said he wouldn’t but he did. Jesus invited us to think about how words are cheap and how we live is how we will be measured.

We had the landowner whose tenants abused and killed his servants when they came to collect the rent. Jesus invited us to think about stewardship versus ownership and how easy it is for the steward to take what is not really his.

We had the wedding feast when the people invited spurned the invitation. Jesus asked us to think about being serious when we are invited to something truly important.

We had last week the Pharisees and Herodians getting together to trap Jesus with the question about the census tax. Jesus invited us to think less like scholars who think a snappy line will win the debate, and more about the fundamental purpose of our lives, why we were born and what we will die for. 

And today we have the Pharisees step up with a scholar of the law asking Jesus which of the commandments in the Law is the greatest. And today Jesus is inviting us to consider the sin of vanity, or as it is sometimes called, vainglory.

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Jesus, Tamar, and Grandma

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Sylvester

Psalm 25, says, “Make known to me, Oh Lord, your ways, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.”

The Letter to the Philippians includes the great hymn of Christ, which says, “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and coming in human likeness.”

This bit of Scripture speaks to the Incarnation, that God became Man and dwelt among us. The incarnation and the resurrection are critical to our faith, and they are the two greatest feast seasons on the Church calendar. It’s why we bow during the Creed. It’s why we are pro-life. God became Man. Today, I would like us to consider the great question of when did Jesus become human?

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Radical Trust

In last week’s gospel, we saw Peter blurt out the truth. When Jesus asked,  “Who do people say that I am?” he got logical and worldly responses, like “some say you are Isaiah and others a prophet.” He then asked, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter blurted out the truth: You are the Christ, the anointed one, the one that everyone’s been waiting for. And the next thing Jesus says to him is, “You are the Rock and upon this Rock I will build my church.”

In this week’s gospel, we see that Peter can’t maintain for very long. This is the second part of the story we began last week. Jesus tells his disciples what the rest of his Earthly ministry will look like. He will go to Jerusalem, and he will be killed, and on the third day he will rise from the dead. But Peter cannot handle that. He says “no such thing shall ever happen to you.” And Jesus rebukes Peter, because Peter has fallen into the trap of thinking as the world thinks. He says, “You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do.”

In the first half of our story which we heard last week, we see what Peter says when he is open to supernatural truth. And in the second half of our story, which we hear today, we see what happens when we remain limited to natural, or human, truth. Last week, Peter blurted out the truth, and perhaps he felt what Jeremiah said in today’s Old Testament reading. That it becomes like a fire burning in our heart, imprisoned in our bones; we grow weary holding it in and we cannot endure it. A supernatural truth is something that is true but beyond our human, or natural, ability to comprehend. That doesn’t make it less true; rather, it opens us to deeper truths that we cannot work to by our own power. It’s a gift of truth. Peter was given the gift of recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah. That’s a radical truth.

But in the second half of the story, which we read today, Peter seems to have lost his grip on that radical truth, and he descends to the human realm which cannot accept that God must die on the Cross. The supernatural gift of radical truth comes to us from God, and our responsibility is to hold on to that truth and to hold on to that openness. We must have that openness if we are to hear and to follow the instructions that Jesus gives his disciples: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Since he just told his disciples where he was going – to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed – then those of us who choose to follow him must understand the cost of this radical truth and radical obedience.

Saint Paul urges the Romans in his letter today not to conform themselves to this age but to be transformed by the renewal of their minds so that they may discern what is the will of God. That was the call in the first century, and it is our call today in the 21st century.

Our age has turned its back on the truths of God. Our age says that we should seek pleasure and avoid pain. Our age says that this life is all there is. Our age says that will and power are the way to get ahead. Our age says win at all cost.

But as the readings today make clear, we must obey Jesus and stop thinking as the world thinks. In faith, we must see through the lies of the world and obey the truths of God. The truth is that this life is a brief moment in our eternal lives. One of the most powerful sentences given by Sister Dee Dee who spoke last week at the convention was that she was not just pro-life but pro eternal life. As Christians we are pro-life and pro eternal life. We know that spiritual death is much worse than physical death. That’s a radical truth that the world rejects. That’s a radical truth that we can’t hold in any more than Jeremiah could hold in his message. That’s a radical truth that means suffering for those who dare to express it in public.

The truth is that power and will are the opposite of what God wants. Just be reminded of the Beatitudes: the meek shall inherit the earth. Jesus describes himself as meek and humble of heart. Our Lady describes herself as the handmaid of the Lord. St. John the Baptist tells his disciples that he must decrease so that Jesus may increase. As Christians, we know that all power comes from God and must be used according to His justice. As Christians we know that the ends do not justify the means. As Christians we know that Justice will be done at the End of the Age when Jesus comes with his angels. That’s a radical truth that the world rejects.

But our lives should conform to the radical truth of God, not the rationalized and compromised truths of the present age. So what can we do? As Father mentioned in his stewardship talk last week, we can commit to prayer. It’s hard to read three pages of the gospels without finding that Jesus went off to pray by himself. We can follow that radical example in our own lives today.

We can spend time in spiritual reading. We have great models and teachers of the faith in the Saints and Doctors of the church.

We can spend time in community. Here we are fighting heat and rain to come to Mass in person. Fighting the fear of the Coronavirus, we might even dare shake hands or even give a hug. That is radical trust, which the world has temporarily lost.

We can share that faith that is bursting out of us. Do our spouses, children, our friends see how much we love our Lord? What can I do that’s radical to show them and everyone what the good news looks like?

Because we should be bold enough to blurt out the truth as Peter did. When God gives us the fullness of Truth, we should not try to manage it so that it conforms to the world, we should share it boldly like Peter.

When we are filled with the love and truth of Our Lord, it should be too strong for us, it was for the Prophet Jeremiah. It should be like a fire burning in our hearts. We should be unable to keep it in.

And we should do our part to cultivate that courage and that openness to what God wants to say to us and what he wants us to say. And we do that through our commitment to prayer, to spiritual reading, and to participation in the church’s liturgical life and our church family community.

Let us, in the words of Saint Paul, offer our bodies, our very selves, as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.

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Seeking Pearls of Great Price

PearlIn last week’s Gospel reading we had the parable of the wheat and the weeds, with the message being that judgment comes at the time of harvest. And the judgment was between wheat and weeds, between the good and the bad. In today’s parables about the kingdom of heaven we get another example of the idea that all will be gathered up – in this case it is fish being caught up in a net – and then at the time of judgment, there will be a process of deciding that this is a good fish and that is a bad fish. And the good fish will be kept and the bad fish will be tossed aside.

Last week, it was fairly easy. A weed is clearly not a grain of wheat. So the process of distinguishing between the one and the other is a little bit like the fact that a coin is either heads or tails. It’s good or it’s bad. A simple, binary, evaluation or judgment.

Now a net full of fish is a little bit harder, but it still ultimately comes down to the judgment that it’s a good fish or it’s a bad fish. And so perhaps we can imagine there is a list. And if a fish is on the good fish list, it’s a keeper. And if it’s not, we throw it out. It seems fairly easy.

Today, one of the examples of the kingdom of heaven that is given to us is that it is like a pearl of great price. I would ask us to take a look at this because I think this parable on the kingdom of heaven has us looking more at the front end of things. Not just everybody’s in until judgment day, but there is a process that Jesus is calling us to while we’re still here. The pearl of great price is more challenging to us because it is no longer binary. It’s not just pearl or no pearl. It’s a pearl of great price.

And that brings up a few items I’d like to just touch on today.

The first is the nature of beauty. The pearl is a beautiful thing. The pearl of great price is a pearl of great beauty. And for most of us when we come to the idea of beauty we tend to seek cover in bromides like “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or that “there is no argument when it comes to matters of taste”.

And that is certainly true. I have a friend who really loves classical music, and he’s spent a great deal of time studying it. And when he’s talking about a piece by Rachmaninoff, he can speak at great length and with great passion about the beauty of that music. And I’m not as much a lover of classical music as he is. If we were to turn to some musical artist that is more my taste, I think I could make similar arguments about the crafting of the lyrics and the way that the melody moves around and then perhaps the way the other musicians bring in their instrumentals or harmonies to produce a rich and nuanced sound that is simply beautiful. Even if it’s a country music singer. If it’s done well.

And I think in both cases, each of us would say that this is really beautiful and I don’t see it quite the way you see it but both of us are open to and acknowledge that there is an objective definition of beauty. I can see the beauty in the classical music even if it’s not my preferred taste and he can see the beauty in the country music song even if it’s not his taste.

That objective reality about something like beauty is a concept that all of us as Christians need to embrace. As Christians, we know the source from which true beauty comes. It is the same place that the source of true truth comes from and where true goodness comes from. Like those, true beauty comes from God.

When we understand that true beauty is God’s beauty, then we can all seek with confidence to pursue and search for the pearl of great price because we know it is not just a matter of taste.

So we have to develop a greater sensitivity to what is truly good. That’s part of what we should do as Christians. It’s part of our call: to grow in our understanding and appreciation of what is truly beautiful, what is truly good, and what is truly true.

And we can grow in that as we grow closer to God’s definition of those things because he is in fact the author of all of those good things.

You’ll notice from the Old Testament reading that Solomon asks for wisdom so as to be a better king and judge. Solomon as king will have to figure out which of the two parties in front of him – both of which can make a good case – is actually closer to the objective source of truth and justice, which is God. So Solomon prays for the gift of wisdom. And the gift of wisdom is that received understanding of what is really in conformance with God’s plan. It’s not the same thing as being intellectual, or being clever, or being smart. And that is why wisdom is a gift that we all can grow in, because it’s that gut knowledge, not that head knowledge, that gut knowledge that this is what’s correct, this is what’s right.

And so we have to grow in our pursuit of wisdom, our appreciation of wisdom, and we need  to pray for an increase in wisdom so we can more quickly recognize what it is that God is calling us to do, to be better able to see the pearl of great price amid all the many good pearls.

And then finally, if you think about how we get pearls, and maybe this is just from a James Bond movie, but we have to be willing to go down into the dark water and bring up an oyster, and open it up, and find that there’s no pearl at all, not even a decent pearl, certainly not a pearl of great price but no pearl at all, and to not lose heart but to set it aside and dive back down and bring up another oyster and see what’s in it. Figure out whether that’s a pearl or maybe that’s a pearl of great price, and we have to be willing to repeat that process.

And that is the gift of patience and perseverance. To be willing to go through a repetitive action always seeking through wisdom to know what is truly good and to not lose heart. That patient and persevering pursuit of God’s wisdom should be at the heart of our prayer lives. It should be the central activity of our Christian lives.

And so as we prepare for the liturgy of the eucharist, let us thank God for the spiritual gifts he has already given us, and let us beg him for more wisdom, more patience, and more perseverance.

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The cost of the Promised Land

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St. Junipero of Serra statue toppled

We’ve officially started summer, as the Summer Solstice was yesterday afternoon. When I was a child, summers always seemed to involve long car trips to whatever great destination lay at the end of the journey. I was one of five kids, so it was seven of us and sometimes the dog on 12-hour drive to a family lake house. With luggage for seven for a week or two, even the huge station wagons of the 1970s were crowded, and so the drive was basically an endurance test and a test of faith. We had to trust that the lake at the end of the trip would still be there, that it would be clean and clear and cool, and there would be no garden to weed, and no barn to clean, just water to swim in and canoes to paddle.

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Freedom Rider

My father would have been 90 today. He was an idealist, but also a depressive, so he rarely followed through with the actions implied by his strongly held beliefs.

He was a Platonist rather than an Aristotelean. But at least once in his life, he took great risk and really made a stand for his principles.

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In September 1961, he was one of 14 Episcopalian clergymen who broke the segregation laws of Jackson, MS, by eating at a lunch counter with a black man. They were held in jail about a week before the judge dismissed the case. Kabuki theater in the end, but at the time he was preparing to be sent to the kind of work farm depicted in the movie Cool Hand Luke.

We are all made in the image and likeness of God, as we read in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. We are also all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, who turned away from God in the Original Sin, as we read just a couple of chapters later in the same book.

Every person, every human life, is precious, and we must never lose sight of that fundamental truth. Likewise, every person is a sinner, imperfect in his behavior despite his profound dignity and importance to God. When Jesus invited the righteous to throw a stone at the sinful girl, nobody did because all recognized their own unrighteousness. Let us love each other as God loves us: through thick and thin, without judgment, risking our own lives.

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