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?”

Continue reading

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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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Circles and Triangles and Lava and Ice, Oh My

Today is Trinity Sunday, when the Church celebrates one of its greatest mysteries. We affirm our belief in the mystery of the Trinity every time we recite the Nicene Creed. The mysteries of the Church are supernatural truths. These are realities that we know to be true, and we accept the fact that we cannot fully define them because they are above and beyond our human nature. We simply don’t have the words.

Now, we need words for definitions, but they are not so important for contemplation. Trinity Sunday is a day for us to ponder the infinite, eternal, triune God. All the mysteries of the Church, including the mystery of the Trinity, are invitations to contemplation. And a good place to begin contemplation of a mystery like the Trinity is the writings of the Church Fathers.

St. Athanasius was a deacon at the Council of Nicea in 325, where the Church met to respond to the heretical claim that Jesus was not truly the same as God the Father. Athanasius later became Bishop of Alexandria, and he spent the rest of his life defending the truth of the Holy Trinity.

Athanasius was firm on the “oneness” of God. In the Athanasian Creed it says, “the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.”

God the Father is God, God the Son is God, God the Holy Spirit is God. The three persons are all of the same substance. If you are tempted to think of the Trinity as an equilateral triangle, imagine the triangle as being a triangle that is also a circle at the same time because you cannot tell one of the three faces of the triangle from the other two because they are all one thing.

If you having some difficulty picturing a triangle that is a circle without losing its basic triangle-ness, then you are beginning to contemplate a mystery.

The Athanasian Creed is equally firm on the “three-ness” of God, for it says, “there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.” Now, when I add one (for the Father) and another (for the Son) and another (for the Holy Spirit), I get a total of Three. Which is probably why the next line in the Creed is this: “But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.”

So there is one God, and there are three persons.

The three persons are not separate but they are distinct in relation to each other.

We teach that the Son – the Word of God – is begotten of the Father. The Word proceeds from the Father while at the same time remaining in the Father. We say in the Nicene Creed, “Light from light.” When we light a candle from another candle, the light of the first candle is not lessened by the light of the second candle. But the father and the son are not two separate beings, as two candles are two beings. This begetting occurs within the inner life of the one God.

We teach that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and the infinite love between them is the breath of God, the Holy Spirit and the third person of the one God.

I mentioned the image of the light from candles, and there are other natural things used in the scripture to help us approach the mystery of the Trinity. At the baptism of the Lord, the voice of the Father comes from the heavens and the spirit of God descends like a dove. Thus we see that the fullness of the Godhead is with us whenever we sense the presence of any person of the Trinity.

There are also some natural phenomena that might help us approach these truths of the faith that are just too big for us to comprehend fully. When we see an iceberg floating in the sea, we know but cannot fully comprehend how much ice is below the surface. When we see pictures of the lava flows on the big island of Hawaii, can we really comprehend in our minds how hot it has to be to set rock on fire? We’ve all seen ice, and we’ve all seen fire, but arctic icebergs and volcanic lava serve as reminders we don’t really know the fullness of ice and fire.

What are we to do in our daily lives with a mystery like the Holy Trinity? How does it apply to us?

First, this Triune God loves us and called us to be his sons and daughters. St. Paul reminds the Roman Christians that if we are led by the Spirit of God, we receive a spirit of adoption and intimacy so we can call God the Father, “Abba” just as a young child today calls his father, “Daddy.” Our God loves us so much he became Man – the Word was made flesh – and died on the Cross for us. Our God loves us so much the breath of God is here as a Holy Comforter and Advocate to protect the Church from the assaults of the Devil. We are loved by our God, more than we can possibly imagine. And our prayers should include contemplating that love.

Second, this Triune God wants us to share his love for us with our neighbors. On the mountain in Galilee, Jesus sends out his Apostles. He tells them to “make disciples of all nations.” Our job is to share the Good News. How should we share that Good News, how do we make disciples? Probably not by trying to explain the mystery of the Trinity. All we have to do is to live a holy life, one marked by the fruits of the Holy Spirit. If we are joyful people, if we are peaceful people, if we are kind people, if we are gentle people, and if we are people of self-control, others will want whatever it is that makes us joyful, peaceful, kind, and gentle. You or I may be the first book of the Bible some other person reads. Let’s make sure they want to read the rest of the Bible.

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I love you but No

There was a teacher at my kids’ high school who would often respond to the students’ persistent requests with an unassailable conversation stopper:

I love you, but No.

For the kids, it was the last word in that sentence which resonated. They didn’t really believe the first part. And that is understandable, for much of our teacher-student, boss-employee, or parent-child conversations operate in an atmosphere of power. Those with power may from time to time sprinkle nice words in their directives, but their underlings often hear only the directive.

As Christians, we have been given the two greatest commandments: to love God with all that we have, and to love our neighbor as we want to be loved. For us, then, the better wording of the conversation stopper might be:

I love you, so No.

Love sanctifies power. Our all-powerful God is also the God of Love, and we are called to be like Him. As a parent, as a teacher, even a boss, we should start and finish our communication with those in our care with love.

It is because I truly love my children that I don’t give them so many things they want.

It is because I love my students that I hold them accountable to the requirements of the course.

It is harder to see love at the heart of employer-employee relationships because of the transactional character of modern capitalism, but God is against an impersonal, transactional economy. At the center of the Church’s teachings on social issues is a reminder of the deep dignity of the human person made in the image of God. No economic or political system is valid if it ignores that fundamental reality. So, love should be why I say No to my employees.

When we live, learn, and work together, we must bind our instructions and corrections in love. It is the way, the truth, and the life.

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