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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time


Old Testament Reading:  Job 7:1-4, 6-7

Responsorial Psalm:  147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

Epistle:  1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39

Healing the Righteous

In the Old Testament, sinners suffer because they have offended God; but with Job we have an exception.  Job suffers although he is a righteous man.  His suffering is a test of his faithfulness, which is the only possible way of understanding how a good man can suffer.  God’s reply to Job’s question as to why he suffers is rather disheartening for the ears of a twentieth century ear: “Who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance?  Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will tell you, and you tell me the answers!”  God then goes into an extended series of rhetorical questions about who else has done these great things.  This moves Job to silence and repentance before God, and then Job is restored.  In this narrative, God’s otherness could not be established more firmly.  Ultimately, God’s reasons are inscrutable and to insist upon God holding himself accountable to humanity is hubris. End of story.
In today’s Gospel account of Jesus’ healing, he visits with Peter, heals his mother-in-law, and continues teaching and healing in nearby villages in the Galilee.  The remarkable part about this gospel is Jesus’ self-stated mission as one of preaching rather than healing.  Mark’s gospel aligns Jesus’ healing to be subordinate to the mission of announcing the Kingdom.  What we have isn’t Jesus the Wonderworker; we have instead Jesus the Preacher.  While preaching is primary, the healing is also strongly connected.  It is from the Word that healing/salvation proceeds.  Jesus’ act of healing weren’t devices to draw a crowd; they were demonstrations of the power and authority of the Word-Made-Flesh.
What, then, can we make of this evolving sense of God’s love in light of suffering? It is interesting to reflect that we do not stand before God with clenched fists to wonder at the suffering of notorious people, but stand slack-jawed that we should suffer such calamity.  We may not be perfect, we reason, but this hardly justifies our treatment at the hands of one who is said to love us unconditionally.  What is remarkable is that Jesus contemplating his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane also wishes to escape his suffering, but rather than appeal to his sonship, he simply asks that if it is God’s will, that he be spared this trial.  Mother Teresa’s famous quip contemplating the Cross comes to mind: “If this is how He treats his friends…”.  There is no “answer”, I think, to suffering that one can use to escape our ordeals.  There is no escaping suffering, not for us, not for the innocent or the guilty, the righteous and the sinner.  One thing the notorious sinner has over the righteous is they find it easier to accept their suffering as something ordained as punishment, the righteous don’t seem to have such recourse. They can only stand before God with clenched fists wondering “why me?”  It is this sense of disbelief that the righteous must be healed.  But unlike the righteous man, Job, for whom God's will seem inscrutible, God's will has been revealed in Jesus as the Christ; what God thinks is no longer a matter of mystery and speculation, but a matter of ongoing revelation in the mystery of his work through the Spirit in the body of the Church.
As the gathering of the faithful, we all stand before God equally unrighteous compared to the great gift of God’s grace.  God, who came into His creation, entered our suffering, suffered as Christ to show us the way to resurrection in the midst of our suffering so that we might live. God doesn’t give followers of Christ a pass on suffering, but a way through suffering to a new life.  Like Simon Peter’s mother in law, Christ heals us so that we may serve.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading     Deutronomy 18:15-20

Responsorial Psalm     95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9

Second Reading    1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Gospel   Mark 1:21-28

A New Teaching Authority: Word as Deed
The word “authority” has a close relative we are all familiar with: author.  The word authority dates from around the 13th century and originally meant the passage from a book that settled a dispute; in a sense, you were appealing to the force of the author’s reputation to end the argument.  It is in this sense of the credibility of the author that Jesus’ teaching seems so remarkable as compared to those of the scribes.  The scribes were also teachers of the Law.  They studied Torah, interpreted it and the Jewish community invested them with the authority to interpret scripture.  Because the people in the synagogue where Jesus was preaching responded to his interpretation with "What is this?
A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him."
suggests Jesus’ authority came from his personal power to heal and use of scripture to reveal that the Kingdom of Heaven is present, not anticipated.  Eduard Schweitzer referred to Jesus’ authority as “His word is deed”.  Jesus is God’s word to humanity, God’s deed.

Too often we would be described as our deed being word; that we delve into the Bible in order to make it serve our need for law and order.  Condemnation is only “good news” for those who use it to condemn, and our history as a Christian people is full of “scribes” whose interpretation serves the deeply pathological need to divide and conquer rather than to unite and heal.  Jesus as God’s word was good news to the poor, the tax collectors, prostitutes, gentiles and everyone else who wasn’t worthy of God’s salvation.  God didn’t send a book to save humanity; he came himself, and offered healing not a diatribe with textual footnotes.  God calls us to follow him, not to read about him.  The life of the Spirit was given to us to live the Gospel, to give life to the deeds of the Word, to allow our words to become the healing Word, our actions to speak with the authority of one who has suffered but still can love because of God’s breaking into our broken world.

We have this new authority, God’s authorization to heal, and sacrifice, to be humiliated and condemned, and to be raised many times from our many deaths to continue God’s great and unending act of salvation.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

"I will make you fishers of men"
The art of Peter Clare (http://www.peterclare.co.uk)

First Reading:   Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Responsorial Psalm:  Psalms 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9  

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Gospel: Mark 1:14-20

The gospel reading of Jesus “collecting” his disciples has always been a compelling story for me.  Fishermen, like farmers, live from harvest to harvest; perhaps, fishermen even more so since you can’t really store fish for any length of time.  So all the more surprising, they felt compelled to leave their nets, their boats, their way of life, and follow an itinerant rabbi, Jesus.  It has shades of Star Trek’s Borg assimilation, “Resistance is futile.” 
In our Old Testament reading, Jonah really wants nothing to do with carrying out what looks to be a one-way mission.  Assyrians were not only non-Jews, they decorated their palace walls with images of impaled Jews.  It’s no wonder Jonah walked the other way.  Ironically, after being detoured from his call by being swallowed by a “big fish”, he delivers his message to the King and, amazingly, it works.  The people of Nineveh repent and God spares them.  Jonah, the reluctant prophet, succeeds; most other prophets of the Bible don’t.  That’s why the stories of the prophets are mostly cautionary tales to the hard-hearted with a message to repent.  As amazing a story as this is, though, it is less about Jonah and more about God’s great mercy and compassion for anyone who repents, who “turns around” and set out in a new direction.  The people of Nineveh, having turned around, found God’s mercy.  Jonah was indignant.  As a Jew to brash Jew-hating Assyrians, he was hoping for God’s slaughtering of these folks.  He complains bitterly to God that after all this work, the people were spared.  Jonah also made a turn in this narrative; or, rather, he was turned.  God turned Jonah around.  He, in turn, helped turn Nineveh.
“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” were Jesus’ words to James, John, Simon and Andrew, who left their nets, made a 180, and began their life-changing journey with Jesus.  Simon and Andrew “abandoned” their nets; James and John left their father alone--- even taking the men they hired.  I’ve always wondered what kept Zebedee in the boat.  I suppose not insisting that his son stay, Zebedee also had given something up: his two sons.
Repenting is both a turning away and a turning toward something (or, in this case, someone).  
The Ninevites turned away from their disrespect of God, and moved into a new life.  Jesus’ fishermen didn’t turn away from sin, but turned toward a greater life in allowing themselves to follow their hearts.  You don’t have to be living in sin to repent, you can turn away from something that is of lesser value.  Turning towards something better may not be as spectacular as abandoning mortal sin for virtue, but more often than not, most people who follow Christ are not grand sinners living depraved lives.  

One great act of repentance might be to turn away from the extraordinary for the ordinary.  It may be repenting from the praise of friends and social accolades and turning towards those whose lives are so full of pain that a “thank you” for your act of love isn’t forthcoming even on a good day.  Perhaps your call is to turn away from a social life that takes you from your family and towards a life with more family time.  For those who live alone, perhaps there is a call to abandon the security of living a predicable life, where you are the CEO of everything, and embrace people who you’re your presence in a messy, out-of-control life.  Whatever our call, one thing is for certain, we are called to walk with Jesus.  It is a journey of healing, of terrifying times well out of sight of land, heartbreaking separations and joyful reunions, but ultimately the one that conforms most closely to our truest nature as being formed in the image of God.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Second Sunday In Ordinary Time

God fishing

First Reading: 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10

Second Reading: 1 Corinthans 6:13c-15a, 17-20

Gospel: John 1:35-42

"If today you hear God's voice, harden not your hearts"

This week past week was vocations awareness week in the Church.  It’s no surprise, then,  that today’s scriptures are classic texts dealing with God’s calling.  In the Old Testament, there is the famous call of Samuel to be a prophet with the equally classic response, “Speak, O Lord, your servant is listening.”  The Gospel of John is the story of Jesus’ invitation to join him with a response to “where are you staying” with “come, and you will see”. 
Samuel’s call to being a prophet is like Jesus’ call.  Both are responding to hearing God’s voice calling them.  In the Gospel of John, we frequently read of the Son hearing the Father’s words.  Like the call of the disciples, we are invited in John’s gospel to follow, and then “see”.    This seems backwards, though.  Who proceeds to follow without seeing first?  Fools, I suppose, but such is the nature of falling in love.  Jesus awakened something profound in his followers.  Remember the disciples on the road to Emmaus, where one of them, Cleopas, remarks to the other disciple after Jesus stayed with them:  “Were not our hearts burning within us….?”(Luke 24)  We follow Jesus without seeing where we are going because we are like love-struck fools, “our hearts burning within us”.  But like Cleopas and the other disciple, and the two of John’s disciples who followed Jesus, we often “see” in recollection rather than in the moment of the call.  There is a type of gestation associated with vocation, a growing awareness of something we cannot escape.  Rarely are we overcome with brilliant light and a deep voice from the clouds and proceed meekly, with a sense of terrible awe; rather, our calling is often like a whisper, and our response like a series of awakenings, epiphanies.  Like Samuel, we often mistake God’s voice for someone else’s (and, unfortunately, sometimes, someone else’s for God’s).  Jesus’ implausible nature as Messiah, the Christ, God incarnate, is God’s way.  Consider who God has called in salvation history.  None of the anyone would consider likely candidates for carrying God’s message. 
We’ve heard of Mary’s unlikely calling recently.  Abraham and Sarah laughed at God’s plan for him to be the “father of the nation of Israel,” Moses protested “Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant.  I am slow of speech and tongue”,  Gideon’s response to God’s call to defeat the mighty Midianites was “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family”.  Rehab, a prostitute who lived in Jerico, helped Joshua defeat the people keeping them from the Promised Land.  David was a scrawny teen that became the greatest of the kings of Israel.  God has even used a donkey (Balaam’s donkey in Numbers 22:27-31) to bring God’s message.  Sinners, stutters, scrawny kids and donkeys God has considered worthy to be called.  When you learn about the Apostles, you’ve got uneducated fishermen who never seem to get what Jesus is trying to show them.  You’ve got Peter, who is nicknamed by Jesus “The Rock”, and is called to lead the Church, who denies he even knows Christ three times following Jesus’ crucifixion.  Rather than approaching vocation with a sense of not being worthy (who is?), let your faith in God resurrection to make all things new, work in your heart.  As the Psalmist sings: “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts”. 
Vocation, though, is more than a call; it is also a response.  The incarnation is more about Jesus’ dynamic and heart-led relationship with God than being God-In-the-Flesh, through the response to be baptized, being led into the desert and, ultimately to the cross, Jesus grew into his relationship with the Father.
 We too “grow” into our vocations.  We never come fully aware of where we are going to stay.  Through fits and starts, dead ends, cul-de-sacs and wrong way markers, we follow, however imperfectly, led by the burning in our hearts at having heard the voice of God who still calls us today.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


First Reading: Isiah 60:1-6

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6

Gospel: Mt 2:1-12

Epiphany means "manifestation", that is, a revealing, an illumination, which is precisely how we experience the jubilation of Israel experiencing the fulfillment of Isaiah 40.  This passage is the joyful song of those who have returned from exile and whose reinvigorated relationship with God will serve as a beacon for "the nations" which signifies the non-Jewish peoples.  The God who has delivered Israel in an act of great salvation becomes, for Christians, the sign of God's supreme act of salvation that saves not only the people of Israel, but the world.  Paul's epistle picks up this theme in "the mystery made manifest" and the notion of the Gentiles being "coheirs, members of the same body".  In the Gospel, we have the ultimate revelation of God's salvation in the form of Jesus' birth, being announced to Gentiles, who then come to worship the Christ child; again mirroring the idea expressed in Isaiah that "Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance."  This king has qualities of the Davidic kingship of justice and concern for the poor contrasted with the megalomaniac paranoia of King Herod.  There are a few important ideas developed in today's readings, I think.

It strikes me that God's revelation over time with the Jewish people, and then to the Gentiles, has been expansive.  Rather than simply lavishing all His attention on his "chosen", we come to see that the choosing is for a role in salvation history.  It is the God who is incredibly lavish with his love and attention, that is a key element in understanding God's manifestation to the world.  It is a God of great inclusion rather than exclusion, yet so much of what we see in Christianity today seeks to privatize God, limits access to communion, sets up laws of access, decides who's "in communion" and who isn't, goes against God's essential movement to embrace humanity, all of humanity, in all the messiness and chaos that this momentum encounters.  We promulgate doctrines that attempt to put a legal tabernacle around God and deny anyone access except through priests who have the stamp of approval from the corporate office; perhaps chaos isn't so much a sign of evil in the world as the facade of unity that is really uniformity.  When we put "Christian" in front of nouns to transform them, like "Christian writer," we mistake God's act of salvation.  The transformation of Christ in the world came from the center of lowliness, vulnerability and exile as a child in a manger, and expanded through acts of healing and resurrection rather than from the outside in.  A "Christian writer" becomes in this new world a "writer of Christ," one whose work brings Christ to the world, helps manifest Christ.  Now we can ask if the writing brings Christ's healing and resurrection rather than concentrate as to whether or not the writer is a Christian.  "The writer who is Christian" is the focus on Christ's presence though the boundless and expansive energy of the Holy Spirit, "the Christian writer" is an investigation as to the legitimacy of affiliation with the Christian community.

When we make decisions as a faith community that defines ourselves over and against those who are not-like-us, we make feeble attempts to limit the Spirit.  When we reach across denominational and even religious boundaries to recognize the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, and of Christ, in those not-like-us, we act most in concert with God whose saving act in Christ is for "the nations", not "the nation." It is shameful that those who most need God's love and salvation are often handed literature rather than a hug, a dismissive tone rather than a place at the table.  In a modification of St. Francis's admonition, we need to go out and preach the Good News, and  if we have to, use words.