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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

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Greater Works than Jesus' Miracles


In today's gospel from John (14:1-12), Jesus boldly proclaims: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father." After turning water into wine, feeding thousands from five loaves and two fish, healing lepers, the deaf, the blind, the lame, and even after raising the dead, the Apostles must have been thinking this is another one of his exaggeration parables, But it wasn't.

These great miracles of Jesus were signs of the Kingdom, but they were not the Kingdom. The signs announced the arrival of the Kingdom, which wasn't a place but a person: Jesus. Jesus, in saying he was the Way was proclaiming that all those miracles, all those signs, were pointing to him because "heaven" isn't a place, its an existence of persons, the Holy Trinity, of which Jesus is the Way.

How then are we, who are left behind, hugging ourselves in fear, able to do greater works than Jesus? Because what Jesus leaves with us is the peace of God's spirit, which is the essence of holiness, or completion. We no longer need to see God's face and live because through the Holy Spirit, we live as the face of God through Christ to the world. Following Christ means becoming Christ through our baptism and sacramental life of the Church. The "greater works," then, are the works of the Spirit. Raising the dead may be impressive, and a sign of the divine, but through Christ, we offer eternal life, resurrection rather than resuscitation; Lazarus eventually died for good.

St. Thomas Aquinas suggests wrote in his commentary on John

"...for the justification of the wicked is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth. For the justification of the wicked, considered in itself, continues forever...But the heavens and the earth will pass away..."

We don't need to "go to heaven" to see God's face; we have a divine mission to become the face of God through Christ's Way as we walk together with the Church the ways of obedience, of sacrifice, and even of death, that leads us to resurrection and eternal life.







Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion



Today, we begin Holy Week. We see the Passion from Jesus' entry into Jerusalem to rolling the stone to seal the tomb. On Monday we rewind to six days before Passover, followed Tuesday and Wednesday with the Passover meal and Jesus' subsequent betrayal by Judas. Holy Thursday is Jesus washing his disciple's feet and telling them "If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet." Good Friday, we, once again, meditate on The Cross.

So Sunday and Friday, we speak of the Lord's passion, of God's love of His creation.

Passion.  The word evokes reckless adventure, impulsive romance, gestures too big to fulfill, and the brief but intense relationship of Romeo and Juliet.  This word places Jesus in the tradition of the foolish Romantics—an itinerant preacher from the margins schooled by his radical cousin (John the Baptist) and led to make one final, dramatic gesture to get his message out: die as a martyr.  But Jesus’ death was unlike the death of many of the martyred faithful to come.  His death wasn't for a cause, but a relationship.  God fell hopelessly in love with humanity and inserted Himself to be with His own creation to deliver this message of healing, love, and forgiveness.  God’s power isn't the power of Zeus with lightning bolts from the heavens, but God’s message is now simply “Return; I love you”.

Throughout Holy Scripture, God has struggled and seemingly failed many times, just as His people have.  It has been an on-and-off-again cosmic love story between the Creator and His creation since humanity was first created and was given a choice not to love God.  This dance between Creator and created culminated in His great and defining act of love: self-sacrifice on the cross.

Today’s gospel reading recounts this journey to the cross with Jesus as God leading the way, experiencing the pain and abandonment of His creation, the physical pain of a gruesome, ignominious death, giving into the abyss of his own uncreated end---all for love.  But in this remarkable journey, he found a few responding with courage: Simon of Cyrene shared some in your suffering, the women who gathered at the foot of the cross and stayed there long after the men had scattered for fear of being arrested, the felon who believed because he, of all people, responded to the suffering of an innocent man, and finally the Roman centurion who saw in this suffering man God’s love.  This is pretty intense stuff

Rather than struggling to believe, many struggle to disbelieve because God’s affirmation of his creation, of saying “yes” to the cross, is the ultimate folly for a world seeking certainty over mystery.  God as Jesus, crucified, dead and buried.  Stay tuned.