Welcome to CatholicPreacher! I use this page as a type of archive of my thoughts for my Sunday homily.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Second Sunday after Epiphany


 


"Can you hear me now?"

Unity without Uniformity--Diversity without Division
           
Thus week begins Christian Unity Week, which raises awareness of what we as Christians share in common rather than what divides us. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world. Each of these groups defines itself in some manner that distinguishes them from the other 40,999.  At first, this may seem rather disheartening, but Christianity since its proliferation in the first century has been diverse; in fact, it is probably more accurate to discuss first century “Christianities” to accurately represent the depth of the early divisions.  Early on, some believed Jesus was not divine, but a person “inspired” by God.  Some believed that one must first become a Jew to be a Christian.  Some believed in a Christian God of Jesus and an Old Testament God. Such issues, for the most part, resolved themselves by the early fourth century at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea. However, from this unity (and some would argue uniformity) came the Great Schism of 1054 where East and West divided, and later in the sixteenth century when there was a split within the Roman Church that began the Protestant movement and ensuing multiplicities. Did I mention the Popes and anti-Popes between the third and fifteenth centuries? What are we to make of all this?  What is the difference between division and diversity?
            Today, we begin reading St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church.  Like Christianity at large, Paul’s large Church at Corinth was on the verge of splintering into several different communities.  In his letter, he addresses three key issues: Division—no one could decide on whom to follow; Sexual Immorality---one member of the church was sleeping with his stepmother; and Lawsuits—on top of all this turmoil, it seems there was a rash of lawsuits among the community. Paul’s wise counsel is still valid today. Regarding division, Paul remarks “It is not important who does the planting [of the seed of faith] or the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow”(3:6-7). Regarding sexual sin, Paul counsels confrontation and the opportunity to repent. For lawsuits, he counsels handling disputes internally. The point is that the community must place Christ at its center and the love of Christ must animate the community in all it does. There is no “rule book”, but rather the Spirit of discernment. Paul famously declares “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.   I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.  Paul’s understanding of freedom wasn’t to go one’s own way but to use freedom to enter into the world in an intimate and meaningful way, to use one’s freedom to establish relationships rather than abandon them. In short, Paul speaks of the freedom to love as God’s love reaches through and beyond Israel, to the “nations of the world”. Devotion, not doctrine gives Christians unity.
            Jesuit father John Whitney, in a recent NY Times article, is addressing the issue of the protest of the firing of a gay vice principal and the reaction to the students “making a mess” in their opposition to the firing.  He responds in the article by putting “making a mess” as being consistent with church tradition. More importantly, he discusses the dynamics of controversy without division over the issue as to whether or not Gentiles could become Christians.
           
            “What is most amazing about this moment in the Church [the Gentile controversy] is how the community comes to decide, together, what is to be done. There are debate and disruption, but it is not seen as division; rather, it is the way the Holy Spirit is working within the community. Further, this debate is grounded in human experience, and not on tradition or on the power of office. Rather than beginning with Scripture—with the Torah or the Prophets—the community begins with the experience of the faithful: with the testimony of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas—none of whom claim special authority in the face of the communal discernment, but all of whom, instead, simply testify to the way in which they have seen the Gentiles touched and filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit…. Here is diversity without division, complexity with separation, debate, and dissent without the need for punishment or condemnation. In listening for the living Spirit of Christ Jesus, the Church begins by listening to the sinners and seekers who are his body in the world.”

            This is true diversity and unity rather than division spawned from insistence on uniformity. When we orient ourselves to listen to the other and honor the experience of faith, we don’t abandon unity because this listening is done as our worship. The Spirit is alive when there are people speaking from the heart and confronting the community out of love.  Because some of our practices and doctrines differ, we worship God insofar as we love one another, listen to one another, and honor the Spirit present in all our communities.  Very often, as in the case of Israel, God speaks through a community as well as to a community. What is your neighbor saying?  Are you listening?

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Nativity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ


 

Expect the Unexpected


"Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David, a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

 I want to begin this Christmas season by focusing on the call of the shepherds rather than moving right to the Nativity.  In fact, if you follow the various gospel readings that the Church offers, you would find the vigil Mass (afternoon of the 24th) through the daytime Mass (Sunday mid-morning) the Christmas story, and the theology of the Christ across three of the four gospels--quite a rich fare which few, unfortunately, experience.

Back to the shepherds, then.  Shepherds were a despised lot in Jesus' time. You can lump them in with tax collectors, prostitutes, and Samaritans.  Of course, as we have seen throughout God's interaction with humanity, this makes them prime candidates for a special grace.  So, it was to them the invitation was extended.  The much-discussed "wise men" or magi, come later (probably didn't arrive until a year or so after the birth).  

So, as the story goes, as with all angelic visitations, it begins with fear.  It takes a lot to scare a shepherd who defends his flock from any number of hazards; they are a grizzly lot.

But, as the gospel records, "...they were struck with great fear".  The appeal of the angel not to fear is based upon the message of a savior that will "be for all the people."  This is followed by a "multitude of the heavenly host" singing "Glory to God in the highest."  Quite a night for the shepherds, and some essential truths about the nature of God and salvation for us tonight.

Like God's appointing David as king (the least likely candidate), God's favor rests on Mary, Joseph, outsiders like the Magi and shepherds.  Notice the absence of anyone really important like Temple priests, scribes, Pharisees, important legates, or even the chief priest.  God's dealing once again with the complete outsiders, widely believed to be outside of salvation history.  How ironic, then, that these were the people most intimately associated with God's arrival as the Christ.

If Advent has sharpened our senses for seeking justice and finding a place with the poor to be in the right place; this visitation of the shepherds reminds us that we are now in the right place at the right time---with the poor, alone, late in the night. Dismal.

But it is with the outcast, far from the comfort of daylight, deep in the night, that God's greeting arrives proclaiming joy and salvation.  Like so much of what God has done in his relationship with humanity: "Who woulda thought?"

In your deepest moment of darkness and doubt,  when your prayers are bouncing back off of the ceiling, ridiculing your attempt to reconnect with God after seemingly failing every time, I want to remind you that those prayers that you think mock your devotion made it through.  They were in God's heart before they ever left your lips. Like the shepherds, the most unlikely folks in the most unlikely place, God finds us.  Search no further than your need, your loneliness, your feelings of being left out. For the still small voice of God speaks to you here, now, inviting you to come home and find the sign of God being with you in the most humble of circumstances.  Join with Christians worldwide to not give up following the light until it rests over the manger where Christ is to be found---in the most unlikely place, at the most unlikely time. 

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (July 12)


A Little Seed Goes a Long Way

Today’s gospel presents us with a parable that is quite striking. For us, we are part of the “inner circle” of Jesus’ disciples who get it and wonder why Jesus wouldn’t be willing to explain it to the crowds, but rather seem to dismiss them as being blind and deaf. Why, then, speak to the crowd at all? Jesus was not trying to win over crowds, but to call individuals to follow him; Jesus wanted people to walk with him, not for him.
The crowd is the landscape, and Jesus is the farmer sowing himself, giving himself as the Word of God with the power of words to germinate in the heart of the ones who are listening and whose hearts are fallow, but not sown.
Jesus is, in Greek, the logos, or word of God. In Hebrew, dabar, the essence of logos. But both terms suggest much more. Logos suggests God’s reason, His willed purpose revealed in Jesus. Dabar is the essence of the speaker contained in the word, much as the potential of a plant hidden within the seed.
Jesus’ interpretation in the more extended version of today’s reading was not, however, likely part of Jesus’ first discourse. It was added to allow the reader to be part of the inner circle rather than the clueless crowd left scratching their heads. The purpose of interpreting the Gospel in this manner was to emphasize ultimate success despite what appears to be a complete failure. This is why Jesus suggests that the harvest of the small amount of seed that falls on fallow earth will reap a harvest of “a hundredfold”; the good average yield is sevenfold.
God’s ultimate purpose for humanity as embodied in The Kingdom---the community of believers as the living word of God’s sowing---is that despite what appears to be crucifixion and death is resurrection and life. Our hearts, as landscapes, have captured little of God’s Word; but this is sufficient for building the kingdom. Tend to the small patch of fertile heart, and don’t allow the vast fields of barren soil to dishearten you. If faith is a mustard seed, you don’t need a lot to realize a spectacular harvest.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (for Next Week)



The Weeds in the Wheat: Stay Out of the Garden! 

 

This parable is part of a series of parables Jesus continues to use, which develops Matthew’s theme of fulfillment (“I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world”--Psalm 78). Indeed this parable is part of a series of parables about the acceptance and rejection of Jesus. This theme of acceptance tinged with rejection is especially relevant for Matthew’s community, who, at the end of the first century is experiencing rejection within the Jewish community.

 Today’s parable suggests the “weeds” appearing among the “wheat” represent those within the Christian community who are subverting Christ’s kingdom, “the field.” On another level, the field is the landscape of the human heart where the Christian must pursue the spiritual life while struggling against the evil from within.

In response to the “weeds among the wheat,” Jesus counsels patience and tolerance. It is the Son of Man who will oversee the final judgment and separation of the weeds from the wheat. We are asked to refrain from weeding the fields lest we destroy the good with the bad. Christians on a weeding tear have historically done a great deal of damage. Think of the Inquisition and the Crusades as a couple of notable examples. In considering the substantial damage done to the kingdom by zealous gardeners, best we leave the wedding to the pros (ref. The Trinity). But what can we do with our itch to weed? 

Perhaps our zealous weeding should first be practiced within our hearts, where the Holy Spirit and mature spiritual direction can bring about a more excellent purification. Put away your weed killers and trowels; see what the weeds look like first that lie sprouting within your heart, and by the time you have finished that job, God’s judgment will surely have been visited upon the world.


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Third Sunday after Pentecost



Who is afraid of good news?

As Christians living in 21st century America, we have little to fear from society. 70.6 percent identify themselves as Christian. Unlike Jesus’ disciples, we are not likely to be persecuted for our faith, and we can shout from rooftops or street corners until we are out of breath and will likely not receive anything more than disapproving stares or neighbors yelling at us to be quiet. So how do the words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel apply to us? A little context might help.
This part of Matthew’s gospel was part of Jesus’ commissioning his disciples to go into the world and assuring them that things will go rough, but that eventually the truth will be revealed and they will stand in favor with God. What has been revealed in secret is not to be proclaimed from “rooftops”. Considering the persecution of the followers of Jesus in Matthew’s time, it isn’t surprising that he incorporated Jesus’ admonition to not be fearful in today’s gospel. We, too, are often hesitant to evangelize, perhaps less out of fear than out of discomfort at what the popular notion of evangelization entails.
Most people when they hear evangelization picture people acting irrationally on the streets shouting the same Bible verse over and over again and handing out tracts; however, evangelization is nothing more (or less) than delivering good news. In fact, it is more than good news—though it must be at least this—- it is the Good News of Christ.  A good question to ask yourself at this point is how is this Good News, good news?
Today’s reading from Romans captures an essential truth that is certainly good news: What was created, through sin, by Adam has been destroyed by Christ. Adam’s sin led to the alienation of humanity from God, not through some genetic predisposition, but through the building of our human traditions and goals outside of living in daily communion with our Creator. In Christ, “all things are made new”. 
This newness is the restoration of communion with God. How, then, do people who are happily going about their daily lives, consider this good news? It seems their lives are good news already.  Here comes the essential part of biblical evangelization patterned after Jesus’ ministry.
As Christians, we bring the good news as healing for those whose lives are weeping wounds. These are those who long for human communion, let alone Divine communion; we can offer them both! Often these lives are messy, full of unreasonable demands on our time, and burden our sense of duty. Who the world has abandoned we come delivering the Good News of communion, first with ourselves, and through this healing relationship, communion with God.  And we don’t need to venture far to find those longing for the good news of the Good News.
                We begin our missionary journey in our own hearts. Before we can share God’s healing, we must allow God working in us to heal our woundedness, our chaotic dysfunctions—the messiness in our lives first. Before we can be Christ to the world, we need to allow our fellow Christians to be Christ for us. That is why the notion of “I can be a Christian alone” is deceptive. As a monk, I am not disparaging the very special vocation of the hermit; what I am suggesting is that all Christians are first and foremost called to witness to the Gospel in in their lives. The Gospel proclaimed on the lips must first come from the Gospel proclaimed in the heart of the believer.
                Now the “fear” becomes apparent. For many, allowing others to heal us means we must first acknowledge our need for others, to let the wounds of Christ be visible in us so that the healing of Christ can begin.  We must learn to be docile to the good intention of others, and in allowing others to see our woundedness, allow them to love us from our faith that God has loved us into being first. It is only then we will have a story of healing to bring to the world, and the good news of the Good News to share.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Body and Blood of Christ



Become What You Receive


St. Augustine’s famous admonition on the Eucharist, “Behold what you are; become what you receive”, reveals the dynamic between the taking and becoming the blessing of the Eucharist. 

In the Eucharistic celebration, the priest’s actions are taking, blessing, breaking, and giving; the part that is often left out of the discussion is the taking and becoming of all who receive. But we who receive are also taking, and rather than blessing the bread, the bread becomes a source of blessing for ourselves so that we might be a blessing to the world—the world yet to be transformed by Christ. Also, rather than breaking the bread, we become broken in our blessing. In Augustine’s saying, “Behold what you are” comes before “Become what you receive”. Approaching the Body and Blood of Christ sacrificed for us, we behold our great need for God’s grace because we experience blessing. The image of brokenness works on two levels: to be shared, the substance must be divided, broken. In the sharing of ourselves, we freely distribute the blessing we have been given and have become. Broken also suggests the suffering of Christ’s sacrifice, the “way of the cross”. We must become true flesh, accept we are not gods, break our egoism to bless and celebrate our humanity.

We then, in our common priesthood, in our lives, do what the priest does at the altar: We take, bless, break and give, stripped of our false humanity, and reveal a great blessing that God has sanctified, what He has created and found very good.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Pentecost


The Language of the Holy Spirit
". . . they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language."


The first action at Pentecost had to do with the paradox of a single group of men from a particular region speaking so that others who spoke many other languages heard them in their own language.  Perhaps the message was one of universal salvation.  Scripture simply says the Spirit ". . . enabled them to proclaim. . . .  the mighty acts of God." What could be mightier than the gathering of all nations to the loving call of God?

Too often, the call one hears in one's own language can lead one to assume God's call is exclusive to him or herself; that the others couldn't have got it right because God is speaking so personally to me! But the language of the Holy Spirit, which is heard in all languages, is the language of the Cross and the Empty Tomb.  The language of the Holy Spirit is loving-sacrifice and triumphing-over-death.

The Spirit's long embrace of love is "as a flame of fire."  This simile suggests it is a passionate, dynamic, and living presence.  Candles, "eternal flames" of remembrance, the sanctuary lamp, all mirror this reality of a living, present God.  Each of us, born like an unlit candle, becomes a light with God's touch at baptism and is the sustaining presence that burns brightly in dark places where light is sorely needed.  As Jesus proclaimed, "I am the light of the world"(John. 8:12), so too we are called to live as "Children of the light"(Ephesians 5:8-19). This light, as St. Paul reminds us takes the form of the many and various gifts of the Holy Spirit; yet, 

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. 
(1Cor.12:12-13)

And in "this one body," we work out our salvation light's gift of God.  Too often, diversity is looked upon with suspicion by the institutional church and among Christian denominations.  Instead of looking at one another with a sense of mystery and awe at the diverse workings of the Holy Spirit, we assume error because of the difference.  Very often, this difference is mistaken as disunity; what, in fact, it is is a lack of uniformity.  What living system exhibits uniformity?  When, then, is the difference error?  The Spirit is also our teacher, and what is not of God will always manifest itself as a force pulling people away from the peace, love, and hope of Christ.  St. Paul writing to the Galatians (Gal.5:22) declares: "...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentlenesses and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.”  
 In 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, after discussing the “many gifts, one Spirit,” Paul writes elegantly of the primacy of love as evidence of the Spirit’s presence:

If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge. If I have a faith that can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing....Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Love is the language of the Holy Spirit and the sure sign of God’s dwelling and the source of our comfort, instruction, healing light, and salvation