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.

Continue reading “Watch”

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.

Continue reading “Vainglory or the Shema”

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?

Continue reading “Jesus, Tamar, and Grandma”

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.

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.

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.

Continue reading “The cost of the Promised Land”

If you love Me, you will obey Me

p1000735In today’s readings there are some challenging, even hard, teachings. Jesus tells his disciplines plainly the nature of love. He says, “whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.”

Do you remember the story of the wedding at Cana from the Gospel of John? They are running out of wine, and Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” That was not just a thoughtful Mom making sure the party went well. That was basic instruction on Christian discipleship from Christ’s best disciple. That story was in Chapter Two. Now, in Chapter Fourteen, Jesus says it himself. Just as she said, “Do what he tells you to do,” Jesus tells his disciples — which is us —  “Do what I tell you to do.” Continue reading “If you love Me, you will obey Me”

Good Friday 7th Word 2020

It was around midday, and darkness came over the whole land until midafternoon with an eclipse of the sun. The curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two. Jesus cried out in a loud voice: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” He then inclined his head and died.

St. Anselm taught that the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was something only a man must do and only God could do. Jesus is true God and true man, one person of the Trinity with two natures. Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped but came down in love and took on the form of human flesh. He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross. He shared with us in everything but sin. His sacrifice is now complete. His establishment of the new Passover meal is now complete. His earthly ministry is now complete. Sharing in our humanity he will endure death.

With this last word he continues to teach his children. Perfect in every way, he is the perfect rabbi. He reminds us that death is – even for us – a temporary condition. Our spirit will live forever. Our soul is immortal, and Jesus shows us the way because he is the Way. He says into your hand I commend my spirit. Jesus has shown through the passion that he is not merely the victim but is also the priest. He is choosing his path at the end of his life. He chooses to be with his father in Heaven forever. We need to choose our destination. If we participate in the life of Christ, if we take up our cross and carry it to our Calvary, if we choose mercy over judgment, then we choose to commend our spirits into the care of our heavenly father. We choose to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus and the father.

Our eternal souls will be united with our glorified bodies when Jesus comes back at the general judgment. We choose in this life where we will spend the next life in those glorified bodies.

Jesus has completed the making of the New Covenant. The Law written in the books of Moses is now written in our hearts. Jesus has shown his disciples how to live the law within our hearts, how to live in response to the great dignity he gave us in creation. Now he shows us how to die in that dignity, in the supremely confident knowledge of who our father is and how much he loves us.

It has been dark because of an eclipse for the three hours Jesus has been hanging on the Cross. The heavy curtain inside the Temple has been torn in two. Mary and the other ladies, along with the younger son of Zebedee, watch this gruesome execution in horror and anguish. Now the soldiers are told to break their legs and bring things to a more rapid end. Methodically, they break the legs of the two thieves crucified with Jesus. They pause before moving toward the True Cross, the cross on which Truth Incarnate has been condemned to die; condemned by the arrogant Roman Empire in cahoots with scheming religious leaders. One more affront to God: breaking his legs after breaking his heart.

The soldiers will not get the chance, for Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son, has one last message for his followers before he gives up his earthly life. He will die in obedience to his Father’s will. He will humble himself to die on a Cross. But he will not die until he has imparted one last lesson for his Church. Loving us, he loved us to the very end.

With no breath left, with his very last breath, he showed everyone the communion of love that is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Father, he says, I who never left you for I am you, put into your hands myself, my entire self. You entrusted to me the salvation of mankind, and I now entrust you with all that I am as I allow my human life to perish on the Cross. I am the perfect sacrifice, the sacrifice that redeems Man, who fell from grace through the presumption of Adam at the dawn of time.

This Roman state, this worldly state, thinks that its will and its power give it immortality. This state will die and be replaced many times over, for the power to kill cannot overcome the power of Everlasting Life. I am not executed. I lay down my life for the sins of all men throughout all time.

See how power of the state is shown to be powerless against faith.

See how the instrument of terror is become the means of salvation.

See how the Cross of the Lord is revealed to be the Tree of Life.

Good Friday 5th Word

Jesus, realizing that everything was now finished, said to fulfill the Scripture, “I thirst.” John 19:28

esus continues to pray the 22nd Psalm from the Cross. Everything is completed. Everything of his earthly ministry is completed, and he is preparing to give up his life. St. John the Evangelist makes sure we know this was no random event. This was no senseless execution. Good Friday, the day that Jesus died, was the pinnacle of his earthly ministry. This is what he came for. This is what the scriptures pointed to, if one but knew where to look and how to read them.

And Jesus is showing his Church from the Cross where to look and how to read. The people of Israel knew to look for the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. And the Psalms point to him: Jesus is the Son of David, upon whose throne God has set him forever and whose kingdom will not end. But today, he is the “scorn of Men, cast away by the people.” The toast of the town on Sunday, he is cast away on Friday.

They are wagging their heads, in the Psalm Jesus is reciting, and there in front of him. They say in the Psalm and in the Gospel story, “He hoped in the Lord; let Him rescue him.” Prophetic words from the Psalms, the Jewish book of prayer, spoken today by those who have cast him away. Like the Psalmist, his tongue clings to his jaws, and he says, “I thirst” to those who have pierced his hands and his feet.

This is the Cup of Consummation in the New Passover. Jesus takes a bit of sour wine from the hyssop branch held up to his mouth. The Old Covenant is finished, it is completed, it is perfected. The New Covenant is established, and the 600 Laws of Moses are replaced by a Law of Love written on our hearts by Love Itself.

Jesus still thirsts. He thirsts for us, for our souls, for our salvation. He offers salvation, and it is up to us to accept it. He shows us from the Cross that suffering can have a great purpose and great power. The Jewish religious authorities believe they have won, but they have lost. The Devil thinks he has won, but he has lost if we turn toward Christ and unite our suffering with his on the Cross. That is our sacrifice. That is our participation in His sacrifice.

Many are suffering today. We are suffering without access to the sacraments. Many are suffering with the virus, and many more are suffering because of how we responded to the virus. This suffering does not have to be pointless. This execution was not pointless because it glorified God and brought the triumph of Life over Death. Our current suffering is not pointless if we offer it to God at the foot of the Cross. For he thirsts for us. His palate is drier than a piece of clay from a pot, and his tongue is stuck to his jaw. For he thirsts for us.

 

Good Friday 3rd Word 2020

Near the cross of Jesus there stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Seeing his mother there with the disciple whom he loved, Jesus said to his mother: “Woman, there is your son.” In turn he said to the disciple: “There is your mother.” From that hour onward, the disciple took her into his care. John 19:25-27

The Doctors of the Church have long understood this dialogue as John representing the Church, with Mary as Mother of the Church. Jesus established his Church, with his Mother as its Mother. This is the Church of Christ. We are the Church of Christ.

We are the called out, the ekklesia, which is the Greek word used for our English word Church. Ekklesia is those called out for a purpose. We are the Church, the called out for a purpose, established by Christ for his purpose.

We are called out to be wisdom. We are called out to be courage. We are called out to be love.

We are called out from the Cross. In fifty days, the Holy Spirit will descend upon the Apostles, but today from the Cross Jesus establishes his Church. From the Cross. Because it is from the Cross – and only from the Cross – that we will get true wisdom, divine wisdom, the wisdom that does not change nor weaken. It is from the Cross – and only from the Cross – that we will get true courage, holy courage, the kind of courage that stands in the face of earthly power because the power of God is mightier than the power of the world. It is from the Cross – and only from the Cross – that we can understand and share true love, the self-sacrificing love of the Cross that sustains us in our earrthly lives and perfects us for eternal life. The self-love of the world ultimately fails, for true love – the love that flows from the Cross – is love of generosity rather than selfishness. It is a giving love rather than a taking love.

Only John and the women are still at the Cross by this point in the Passion. The strength that sustains John and the women is a lonely strength. The strength of the Cross sustains us as we are lonely without the acclaim and honor of the world because we choose the Cross rather than the world. Mary and the women represent the feminine strength, the strength to persevere, to remain when others have already run away. Jesus and John represent the masculine strength, the strength to embrace the whipping, the crown of thorns, and the nails. All of us, all made in the image and likeness of God, have both the feminine and masculine strength, and we need both kinds to carry our crosses and persevere through the days of persecution and apostasy. We are called out to be the light of Christ in the world, a Church protected by the Holy Spirit and comforted by our Mother Mary.

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.