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

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter: The Resurrection of the Lord

The older I get, the less concerned I am about the historical facts of my faith.  Don't get me wrong, if I could know some historical fact regarding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I'd jump at the opportunity; it's more a matter of accepting the inherent limitations of living a life of faith regarding the type of knowledge faith reveals.  I see so many folks trading their faith for a kind of intellectual dishonesty that makes bizarre claims in an attempt to find an empirical backing to what they claim to believe already. 

Christian curmudgeons who scour the Bible making esoteric connections that reveal the exact time Christ will return are examples of this type of dishonesty. Another kind of intellectual dishonesty is prevalent myths handed down by unsuspecting pastors who “read this somewhere” that when Jesus said to turn the other cheek, rather than being a form of submission to an aggressor, it was, in fact, a Middle Eastern custom of offering your enemy your left cheek as a form of insult. Or how about the old “eye of the needle” problem for wealthy people seeking the Kingdom? I’ve heard this explained away from the pulpit by referring to unnamed sources that, in fact, the “eye” was a very narrow gate that a camel could get through, but that it had to go on its knees to make it. The good news here is that you can have your riches and make it through the “eye” on your knees. Of course, there never was such a gate in Jesus’ time, and even the metaphor itself is strained to find Good News for the wealthy (see Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 3, pp. 592-594 ). But there is no way to explain away the necessity for crucifixion before resurrection while claiming orthodox Christian faith. There is no other way to resurrection than through crucifixion.  This is the substance of my faith when I proclaim each Sunday "He was crucified, died and buried.  On the third day, he rose again in accordance with the scriptures."

Crucifixion forces our hand and breaks our plans for an orderly and carefully controlled life while putting us at the feet of the cross, or on it.  We will likely never have empirical, historical evidence of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, but one thing is eminently probable: Jesus was killed on the cross by Roman and religious authorities who were threatened by the instability of challenged metaphors: Jesus said he was a king, and Jesus said he was the Messiah.  The only possible way Jesus could walk to the cross was a faith born not in what would come after, but in the sustaining relationship of love he had with the Father.  Jesus' fear, and feeling of dejection in murmuring the 22nd Psalm "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" ends with the 31st Psalm: "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." 

The Resurrection is what happened after.  The disciples witnessed it according to the accounts of Scripture.  But my faith in the Resurrection is also founded on the resurrections I've experienced in others and in myself that have their origin in The Resurrection. This yoking of death with birth is an incredibly rich source of our human experience recorded in art and literature.

 Easter is the "difficult birth" of a faith borne on the cross of a two-thousand-year-old man who claimed to be a king and Messiah, but the millions of new lives hewn from the roughness of the Cross is witness to a deeper and more profound truth than a single historical event; the Resurrection has lived long after Jesus walked the earth.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday of the Lord's Passion

We Call this Friday Good

Good Friday is when we recall that even Jesus' closest disciples fled into the night and sought refuge away from the Roman and Temple authorities for fear that they, too would be arrested; faith: FAIL. Today is a day we move deeper into meditating on our need to tell God, as Jesus, hanging on the cross to pull off another miracle, save yourself and save us! No? We’re out of here! I’m not going to end up like that!! 
     Peter’s famous denial three times echoing Jesus’ earlier query, also three times: “Do you love me, Peter?” Peter responded then: “You know that I love you!” Now, fearful of his life, he replies “I know nothing of this man you refer to!” This person is the disciple upon whom the Church. Peter, the so-called “Rock” by Jesus, crumbles into sand at the crucifixion. 
     The cross is a spectacle of human folly, failure, and faithlessness. "Yet, in spite of that", as T.S. Eliot wrote“We call this Friday good.” Its goodness lies in God’s total submission to his love for humanity in the person of Jesus. It is the goodness inherent when we willing suffer for another person, perhaps a stranger, or even an enemy. Today, we contemplate how we respond to being asked to suffer for another, or whether or not suffering (of ourselves or another) sends us scurrying into the night, renouncing God because we suffer. 
     “How could God allow such suffering ?” many ask and imply this is the cardinal weakness of Christianity. Perhaps the better question is “Why would God be willing to enter into our world of suffering?” The mightiness of God isn’t a lifeboat dropping out of the sky for survivors floating in a tempest; it is God falling into the water next to us to show us the way to dry land. 

     God with us, “Emmanuel”, means God suffering for and with us. God does not want to “save” us as much as he intends to be with us. We want to be “saved”, just as Jesus wanted to escape suffering; it's only natural. No one suggests that to follow Jesus we should seek out pain, but rather following Jesus we will enter the suffering of a suffering world with a resounding affirmation: “Yes” to being with the poor and hopeless, the excluded, imprisoned, tortured, and sick. “Yes” to the suffering of the world, and all its messiness and dysfunction. The cross’ affirmation is entering into the heart of the suffering world and walking with those who suffer to find God calling us into his embrace, arms stretched out on the cross, now embracing us in all of our horror and pain, failure, and humiliation. Today we come to the cross to be embraced by Jesus’ crucifixion and to be resurrected with The Christ.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

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

Passion.  The word evokes wild adventure, impulsive romance, gestures too big to fulfill, and the brief but intense relationship between Romeo and Juliet.  This concept 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 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 uncreated end: all for love.  But in this remarkable journey, he found a few responding with courage: Simon of Cyrene shared some in Jesus' 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 saw 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.

God’s affirmation of his creation, of saying “yes” to the cross, is the ultimate passionate folly to a world seeking safety over communion.  God as Jesus: crucified, dead and buried.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Lent

"Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” 

The speaker in Isaiah is God, trying to redirect His people's attention from the pains of the Babylonian exile and towards a new exodus---a return home that has echoes of last week’s Prodigal Son parable.  God is making a way in the desert, bringing water to barren soil, renewing life from death.  Today’s Old Testament from Isaiah is almost a response to Psalm 137 “By the rivers of Babylon; there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.”  God is pleading with His people to “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not” to re-establish His relationship with them.

I think it was more than a preoccupation with a sense of loss; it was a sense that God had spoken through the prophets, especially Moses, and that is where the sought comfort and understanding.  The prophetic reality of Isaiah, however, was calling them to abandon defining themselves by their history, and look to God now and realize God is calling them to a living relationship.  Like all great prophetic literature, the past is only useful insofar as it points forward.

Today’s gospel of the woman and man caught in adultery and Jesus’ response is an excellent illustration of being called to the present.  They dragged the woman to the feet of Jesus in an attempt to catch him pronouncing the death penalty that was prescribed under the Holiness Code of Leviticus (20:10), but in so doing, Jesus would have been guilty under Roman Law of carrying out capital punishment, which had been banned for the Jews.  If Jesus pronounced a pardon, he would have been guilty of heresy.  Jesus, however, brilliantly escapes this trap with the legendary reply: “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone”.  This took the steam out of the crowd and foiled the plan of the religious leaders to trap Jesus. Alone with the woman, Jesus does not condone the sin of adultery but merely says that since she was not condemned by anyone else, so he will not condemn her.  He only admonishes her to “sin no more”.

Using the Law as a tool for announcing God’s condemnation of a sinner was looking back and missing the reality of God’s present love and concern for humanity.  Using tradition and text as a tool of power still has its hold on religious authorities in the Christian church today.  Jesus was sent to fulfill the law in his person; text becomes the Word only when it is faithful to the living and present reality of a relationship with God in the Holy Spirit. Sin is an occasion for communal grief and prayer, not condemnation, for “we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God”.  By grieving sin and loving the one who sins, we heal.  We can only love the sinner by loving ourselves first as God loves us.  Loving means not encouraging sin, but supporting the struggle.  The unrepentant sinner separates him or herself from the community, but the community still longs for a homecoming, still longs for a renewed relationship.  As a community of sinners, the best we can do is keep picking ourselves up and leaning on God’s unending grace.  Our response to ourselves is Jesus’ response to the woman (and equally pertinent to the man not dragged before Jesus) is go, and sin no more.  We can only hope to begin a righteous life if the journey begins with love and support.  Lent is the ideal time to make this beginning because Easter is a celebration of this resurrection.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Lent

The Lost and Found

‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;I no longer deserve to be called your son.’

These are the words of the Prodigal Son, and they resonate with us as we journey through Lent more conscious of our need to God’s abundant grace.  Just as the Prodigal Son contemplated the richness of his father’s estate while he was stealing scraps of food he was using to feed pigs; we too sense the almost unfathomable richness of God’s goodness from which he pours out His grace upon His creation.  Lent is not only a time to consider our sinfulness, but it is also a time to contemplate how the nature of sin is such that it can lead us to a life of spiritual poverty, where our souls are famished for lack of nourishment.  We cannot exist off of scraps meant for pigs! 

As God’s children, like the Prodigal Son, we are afforded all that God has even though we have wandered away from home with the mistaken belief that the true richness of the world was something we create rather than something we experience in communion with God.

So many Christians in their youth leave the church for what they think will be a richer life without God and the sacraments, only to return when tragedy strikes, returning with the spiritual maturity they left with.  Some were driven out of the church by the harm done them by the very community they called family.  Some left because it is inconvenient to rise early on  Sunday and they would rather be doing something else; they can always worship God on their own.  Then there are some who never return, who die without their birthright of the sacraments and the comfort of absolution.  Whatever the reason for leaving, during Lent it is we, the faithful who must be a sign of God’s finding them and inviting them to return.  We must be of the mind of the father in the parable who doesn’t wait for his son to reach him but runs out to meet him at first sight.

Where do we find these prodigal Christians?  They are all around us in our daily lives.  Invite them back.  Let them know that God’s love never abandoned them.  Remind them of the parable of The Prodigal Son and the enthusiasm of the father, and that God’s love extends to them no matter where they are in their spiritual walk.  So many feel unworthy and use that as an excuse to stay away. We all cultivate love and gratitude from the soil of the humble awareness that our Father has embraced us on the road, clothed us, put a ring on our finger, and invites us to celebrate being found.