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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Septuagesima Sunday

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill."  --Jesus

There is a popular refrain among some Christians: “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” No doubt the fatigue of believing that uncertainty is opposed to maturing in the spiritual life can lead one to wish such simple slogans are true. Biblical fundamentalism, though, is borne from a lack of trust—the antithesis of life in the Spirit. Our relationship with God is primarily one of prayer and communal discernment, not textual fidelity; such errors are not unique to Christianity.  The Jewish people of Jesus’ time also struggled to live a righteous life through God’s revelation in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). Genesis is the story of origins. Most important, though,  isn’t the scientific details of origin, but of the origin of our relationship with God and one another, and the origin of our breaking communion with our Creator. It is also a story of the origin of our reunion with God through the faithfulness of Abraham, in whom God counted faith as righteousness. Exodus outlines the struggle of God’s people in exile and the fight to regain Abraham’s promise and again respond to a promise.  
          A text didn’t lead the Jews into the Promised Land, the presence of God did. Then God organizes them and gives Moses the Law to order the people’s worship and life. Leviticus reveals the detail of God’s Law, and tellingly, the book that follows, Numbers, is about God punishing the people’s failure to keep the Law; so begins the wandering. Deuteronomy is all about reaching the Promised Land and learning to obey God. This begins the messiness of relationship with The Divine---exile, and return; promises made, broken and reworked again and again by a God hopelessly in love with humanity. The struggle of God’s people is mirrored by our struggle to be faithful to a Word, a living Word, not a text; but there is a catch.
            To say we live by faithfulness to a relationship with God, not with a text can also lead to complete disdain for the Bible.  What is needed is a greater understanding of the role of the Bible in our lives as Christians. We need to avoid the trap of textual fundamentalism and the other extreme of living disconnected from tradition and the wisdom of those who came before us. The Bible, when used wisely and within a broader community of interpretation, helps us to discern our life in Christ from a life moving away from Christ. The Bible isn’t a book of answers as much as it is a book of questions, questions of how to live the radical demands of Christ’s gospel.  John Parsons, a great missionary, famously wrote that “In the end, it's not an act of interpretation that is called for but a life of commitment to the truth. Interpretation must reach an endpoint, a decision. We cannot indefinitely suspend our judgment without risking self-deception and the loss of the message of love...”
            In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus confronts the stark reality that living by the letter of the Law, as text, isn’t enough to fulfill the Law; a change of heart is needed.  It is not enough to simply refrain from murder; one must treat anger with equal disdain. It is not enough to refrain from adultery, but cultivating lust by treating one as an object of desire should likewise be avoided. Making elaborate promises that lead to intrigue and misunderstandings is the error, but so is dithering to make commitments and honest communication.  When Jesus declared that “ I have come not to abolish but to fulfill [the Law] he indicated that fulfillment was only possible in a relationship of faith through him, not textual scholarship.  Scholarship only helps us understand the text; Christ penetrates the text to the heart of God.  We live in and through Christ, not in and through the Bible.
            What sustained the early Christians, who had no common scripture for three hundred years after Jesus, sustains us today—The Holy Spirit.  Living God’s word, in a sense, allowing each of our lives to write a gospel message to the world, is the natural extension of both an educated reading of Holy Scripture and the give and take of our life in the Spirit.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Your Mission: Blandness, Lowliness, and Darkness

Today’s gospel is kind of a pep-talk from Jesus to his disciples (as well as a cautionary tale for those who waste this potential).  He uses three metaphors to get his point across, comparing his disciples to salt, a city on a hill and a light. He doesn’t insist that they will become salt, city and a light, but that they are and must allow the world to see them so that the world “…may glorify the heavenly Father.” 
            One aspect these images all share in common is that by themselves they are useless. Have you ever had a teaspoon of salt, or stared into a source of light only to be blinded when turning away, or heard of a thriving city cut off from commerce from other cities?  All of these metaphors suggest use in the context of need. Salt is used to season bland food, light to provide a way in the darkness and the visibility of a great city on a hill to attract people to its location.
            The nature of the gift always suggests the mission.  Salt brings life and sustains the freshness of food that otherwise would be bland and soon rotten. Our mission is to the bland. The routine of daily life where often people simply “go through the motions” is a dead-end ritual that often lacks meaning.  “Working for the weekend” suggests the only proper end of work is recreation rather than the value of work itself. Being the “salt”, Christians can bring tastiness, the hope of meaning, in living lives that celebrate all aspects of life itself. Animated by the Spirit, we have the power to live such a daily life others find meaningless, create community and flavor to the bland fare of modern work. We don’t have to be celebrated to find meaning; we can live a life of gratitude and allow our care and mindfulness to shape our work into something sacramental.
            Our mission is to darkness. There are places where fear imprisons its residents, but where people who are light chart a pathway out of the darkness.  Father Gregory Boyle in Los Angeles is a good example of one who has brought out the many lights hidden in youth gang violence by allowing his single light to illuminate hope and promise in a part of the city where hope and promise are too often well out of sight.  Today’s saint, St. Jerome Emiliani, in the darkness of a military prison found the light of Christ while captive, learned to pray and eventually lighted the way for thousands of orphans, the sick and the poor in establishing the Clerks Regular of Somasca. Our Christian heritage is rich with such lights, and the darkness is a time-honored mission.
            Our mission is to the hidden, the outcast and forgotten by entering into obscurity fearlessly to allow people to find dignity, love, and purpose in a world that tells them they are worthless is also a great calling.  The Alcoholics Anonymous parable of a man in a well will serve us here.  There was a man trapped in a well with no hope of getting out.  One man passes overhead and hears the cry for help, looks at the depth of the well and says he will go for help as soon as he can find someone with a long enough ladder to reach the bottom. A religious guy writes a prayer and drops it down.  Finally, a third man approaches and jumps down into the well.  The man in the well asks incredulously “Why in the world did you do that.  Now we are both stuck!” The man who jumped down replies “Yes. But I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.” 
            Our own darkness, blandness and hidden wounds are, through Christ, light, meaning, and purpose for the world, because God bestowed these gifts to us through the Holy Spirit, as the famous hymn declares “When we first believed.” Such amazing grace is only realized though when it is accompanied by the fearless response of our calling to the bland, lowly and dark places in our world.