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

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

 


Creating a Home for the Poor

            From Psalm 68 we get the refrain “God, in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor”.  In this simple verse, we have the profound truth of a connection between divine goodness, home and poverty converging; what is the relationship?
            In the reading from Sirach, a wisdom book, we get the admonition to conduct our affairs with humility “and you will find favor with God”.  Humility is the essential disposition of the seeker in the spiritual life, yet it can become more elusive as we regard our progress in this journey with greater satisfaction.  It is ironic that the consciousness of development is inimical to advances in the life of the spirit.  The great verse from Philippians (2:6-11)

 though he was in the form of God,
He [Jesus]did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

            Humility is realized through emptying, the kenosis of Philippians (κένωσις), that implies leaving room for God to act, of being in a relationship of profound trust with God.  We empty ourselves of our delusions on claims to grandeur, on entitlement to be other than who we are: creations in the likeness of God.  We become more “God-like” the more we accept ourselves as imaging God rather than imagining ourselves to be God.  Jesus’ enjoining would-be banquet guests to prefer the lowest and least seat at the table leaves open the possibility of being invited, “so that when the host comes up to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’” Only the lowly may be exalted; the exalted have no place to go. Our right relationship with God is with those for whom being at the table is pure gift, and who eat and drink in a profound state of gratitude rather than a state of entitlement. But what has this to do with the poor?
            Poverty in Jesus’ time was equivalent to divine condemnation, a sign that one had fallen out of favor with God.  You could be poor in many ways. Women were poor simply for not being born male. The sick and infirm were poor because they were perpetually unclean and cast aside in many instances.  Widows who could no longer be affirmed by being associated with a male were often discarded if a male relative could not, or would not, take them in. Poverty expressed itself in so many ways in addition to the simple poverty of not having enough.  For Jesus, the poor embodied those longing for what the Kingdom represents: acceptance, love, and dignity. 
            The reason it was so difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom had nothing to do with riches directly; it was, and is true today, that the rich life outside the milieu of vulnerability. The rich and this designation would better be rendered “well-insulated”, find hope in maintaining independence and privilege. Jesus didn’t bash someone because they were wealthy but challenged them to become poor and relinquish living “well-insulated” lives to become more fully interdependent among the human community and God.
             Today’s gospel is a mandate for kenosis among God’s people.  Instead of being known by what we have, we can become known by what we trust God to provide and live this hope joyfully in sharing the poverty of our failures, of our humanity.
             Though we may not live in gated communities physically, how often do we refuse entrance to our hearts by someone whom we deem unworthy of our love and trust?  We may not live in great castles with deep moats, but how often do others who come to us, or seem threatening to our stability and peace, encounter the moats we have spent years digging around the place in our hearts when they should be encountering a “Welcome” sign? Very few attain this level of freedom without moats or guardhouses, but by God’s grace, we can make our moats a bit easier to cross or leave a sleepy guard on duty to our gated communities.   
            The poor for whom we make a home first is for ourselves, for our humanity that God created, affirmed as being "very good" and redeemed by becoming poor---God entering our humanity.  Before we can truly welcome the poor, we have to see our poverty as human and learn to live in profound gratitude and trust, so the welcome sign truly announces the Good News.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost


 Doors Narrow and Wide


            The image of the narrow way, or gate, is treated in both Matthew and Luke; however, Luke’s account, the one we are reading today, provides a fuller context than Matthew’s gospel, but Matthew’s gospel is important to consider as well when trying to understand what Jesus is saying.
            In Matthew, Jesus adds: “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  In this gospel, it seems the restriction isn’t so much the size of the opening but that it's difficult to find.  They both have an image of struggle associated with salvation. The context in Luke is Jesus answering the question, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Such a question was part of a current theological concern of Jesus’ time among the Jews as to who among the Jewish people were the “chosen ones,” the remnant to be saved.
            Typical of Jesus’ style of turning questions in an unexpected direction, he responds with an answer directed towards the questioner as a person rather than to the question with an abstract answer.  Jesus uses the image of one knocking on a door and the master of the house not opening the door because he does not recognize the petitioner’s voice. What began with a question of abstraction has become personal.   Despite the petitioner's protests, who identifies himself as part of a crowd who “ate and drank” with Jesus and witnessed Jesus in the streets, this casual association was not enough.  It is rather difficult to make it through a narrow door when part of a crowd.  Again, Jesus reinforces the personal dimension of salvation; crowds aren’t saved; individuals are saved.
            The protection of membership in a particular group, the Essenes, the Pharisees or Sadducees or whatever, isn’t enough.  Salvation is recognition, personal recognition by Christ. If the master of the house did not open the door because he didn’t recognize the voice of the petitioner, we also keep our hearts closed to the voice of God who is trying to enter our hearts.  How many times has Christ stood patiently at the door of our hearts knocking, and we have kept him out?  Is it any wonder then he cannot recognize our voice as part of a crowd? The narrow door isn’t narrow because God wants to keep people out; it is narrow because salvation is realized one person at a time; it is a relationship, not a theological abstraction, that is the way to salvation.
            Finally, Jesus adds the paradox that many who consider themselves first will be last, and the ones who are least will be first.  The pride that results from considering one's salvation guaranteed through association seems to Christ, at best, suspect. All of us who enter the narrow door do it one at a time, clinging on the hem of Christ’s robe who recognizes us because we recognized him when he knocked, and we opened the door of our hearts.  Ultimately, though the door may be narrow, as the hymn reassures us, "There's a wideness in God's mercy." We approach the narrow door alone but walk through it with Christ.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost


 

"Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me." (Ps. 138)

     I recall one of the stories of the Desert Fathers in which a young monk asks his spiritual father, his abba, why his prayers are so ineffective; he prays but rarely gets what he asks for. The monk asks his disciple to take an old, dusty basket and bring him some water.  The disciple obliges but gets no farther than a few steps before the basket leaks the entire contents of water out, and so he must return to refill it.  He does this several more times and soon realizes the futility of using the old basket to carry water.  He returns, sullen, unable to accomplish his abba's request.  He explains his great effort to try and keep the water secure but that the basket will not hold the water.  His abba nods in agreement. He asks the disciple if he noticed anything different about the basket since he took it to the river.  The disciple says "Yes, it is now clean."  The abba says "Yes, it has been cleaned by the water passing through it while you were filling it. God answers our prayers by first purifying our hearts, not granting us our desires. Only a pure heart can say with faith, "Your will be done."
     What we usually mean by "God does not answer prayer" is "I didn't get what I asked for." For some Christians (and anyone in a fix), prayer can be little more than a spiritual ATM.  Not to discount the need to ask God for those things we need and desire, but all prayer should be with the proviso Jesus used in the Garden: "Not my will, but your will be done"(Luke 22).  Suppose Jesus, in perfect communion with the Father, humbly submitted to his Father's will when scared, anticipating a gruesome death, and feeling abandoned. How much more should we be willing to pray under the condition that it is God's will?
     In today's gospel reading from Luke, Jesus is asked how we are to pray, and Jesus follows up with the "Our Father"--a prayer not invented by Jesus but passed along from John the Baptist, who taught his disciples a prayer from the wilderness. The Our Father can be used not simply as a text for our prayer but as a small catechism on how to pray:

"Father hallowed be your name."
Prayer begins with acknowledging God as Father, or more accurately, Jesus uses the word abba---" daddy" to bring into sharp focus the intimacy with which we can approach God.  God is both supremely holy, but through Christ and the Holy Spirit, supremely accessible to us; we should begin every prayer not only with the awareness of God's holiness but with the great gratitude that we are, as St. Paul says,"heirs of God", God's children (God has no grandchildren).

"Your kingdom come."

Other gospels add "your will be done, etc..."  To first pray for God's kingdom is to honor Christ's central mission, to make the kingdom realized by his disciples, and to spread this grace to all. We must, as Thomas Merton wrote, "will the will of God"; our prayer must first raise our consciousness to seek first the Kingdom before all else.  As my spiritual father said many years ago, it is necessary "to pray for the Kingdom of God to come, not the Kingdom of Todd"!

"Give us each day our daily bread."
The "bread" is understood by biblical scholars to point to the Messianic banquet, the eschaton, the final culmination in history of the establishment of the Kingdom for all eternity.  The prayer asks for that realization to be daily; the eschaton isn't only historical, it is eternally present and accessible by grace. We should earnestly pray for this spiritually sustaining need as we realize the need for physical nourishment.

"Forgive us our sins for we forgive everyone in debt to us."
This part of the prayer isn't so much a quid pro quo as it is an admonition to be mindful of the need to avail ourselves of God's mercy so we can extend it as part of the building up the Kingdom.  We need to continue to seek God's merciful grace, not as a reward for forgiving others, but we need to seek God's grace so that we can forgive others. If we live in gratitude for God's mercy to us, forgiveness can be genuine because it is an extension of the divine forgiveness of God. If this dynamic was working perfectly, I doubt we'd need to include it in our prayer, but it isn't, and we continue to find forgiveness tough at times, so our focus ought to be seeking God's mercy for our lack of mercy towards others.  The "Jesus Prayer" is a great help: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  This ancient prayer, far from being self-abasing, abounds in the awareness of God's great mercy and our constant need of it.


"Do not subject us to the final test."
The Greek word used for "test" is peirasmos, which suggests the trials of the Messiah; the afflictions of the mission of Christ; it isn't suggesting that God is the source of our temptations (God never is the source of temptation--James 1:13).  We pray to be fortified in the life of trials for the sake of the Kingdom and that we might not "be subject"...or perhaps a better word would be "subjugated" to the final test---be overcome by our struggles.  Make no mistake, anyone considering confronting the world's evil would do well to begin with the evil in one's heart.  Satan rejoices in the self-righteous protester who can use an agenda of "social justice" to embitter the heart and render it lifeless in the pursuit of effectively hating one's enemies, but for a "good cause."  Real spiritual combat occurs in the recesses of one's heart, not on the street facing one's enemies.  Do you want to destroy your enemies?  Love them! Where is the enemy now?

The second part of the gospel sets up the short narrative of one who, because he was persistent in appealing to his friend, got what he needed.  So "For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." We need persistence in prayer to cleanse our hearts like the water sifting through a dirty basket; it takes a lifetime of seeking and knocking to realize whom we sought was always with us, and the door has always been open.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

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.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord


 

Now What?


Ascension has all the makings of a story’s end.  Jesus, who has been crucified, and is now resurrected, is once again with his disciples teaching them to anticipate the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Then in a moment of great transcendent glory, departs “lifted up into the clouds”.  We have been following the story since Christmas and Jesus’ birth. Now it is only fitting that as we watch him ascend, there is a feeling of completion; the drama will certainly end with the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

In truth, the story continues, though, to the Eschaton and the righteous judgment of humanity and the end of earthly history.

The ascension completes the human ministry cycle of Jesus but begins the reign of Christ within the Church. The Kingdom is more than a representation of Christ to humanity, it continues as God’s presence among us. For Christians, the Holy Spirit gives us communion with God the Father and Son, we now “abide” with God. For non-believers, we become more than simply messengers of a doctrine, we have the potential to be Christ’s presence.

The liturgical cycle reflects this well. Most of our time is spent after Pentecost. This is the time to compare our lives with the life of Christ and his ministry.  In the Advent-Christmas cycle, we revisit God’s incredible love for humanity and the birth of Jesus. Then, in the Lent-Easter cycle, we celebrate the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection, ascension, and the spark of the Holy Spirit which sets the Earth ablaze with God’s Kingdom once again. The final chapter has not been written, and there is much work yet to be done.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sixth Sunday of Easter


 

Keeping Our Word
Jesus’ farewell address has the curious phrase “Whoever loves me will keep my word”.  We all understand how to keep our word, but how is it that Jesus is asking us to keep his word. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the Word, in Greek, the Logos, of God.  The Son in the Trinity is the Word of God; the Son proceeds from the Father as God’s Word, his expression of perfect love for all creation.  Just as words that come from us reveal ourselves to the world, so the Word (Jesus) proceeded from God the Father as a revelation of God’s true nature.

Keeping Jesus’ word is nurturing God’s promise of salvation that Jesus’ life embodied as a sign of grace, God’s great love for His creation in general, and humanity in particular. The world can know God most intimately through Jesus the Christ, though God reveals Himself in many other ways and to many other peoples; however, it is our faith that tells us God’s preeminent and perfect revelation of Himself is through Jesus.

The second part of today’s gospel anticipates the gift of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as The Advocate or someone who acts on another’s behalf.  The Spirit, then, is the means by which we can keep Jesus’ word to us and God’s Word to humanity.  Jesus’ reference to peace in declaring “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”  The world offers us a sense of peace that can only be temporary; the peace of Christ is an eternal peace, but it isn’t a peace that leaves us in a type of protective spiritual bubble that inoculates us from the difficulties of life.  The Reverend A.J. Muste, a famous American clergyman who preached peace said "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."  

 We stand upon the foundation of peace that allows us to face the world in all its chaos and turmoil because keeping Christ’s peace means venturing into a violent and broken world with Good News when all around us is falling apart.  William Blakes’s famous line from “The Second Coming” “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” is the bad news of the peace the world gives.  The peace of Christ is the center that holds for eternity and extends out into the world and draws everyone in like foundlings brought from a storm into a warm, protective, loving home. Alleluia, Christ is risen!

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Fifth Sunday of Easter


 

A New Commandment?


Jesus tells his disciples that he will leave them shortly. He doesn't have a set of instructions, an organizational plan, or even a set of inspired writings. He simply gets their attention by declaring he is giving them a new commandment: "Love one another". 

It is interesting that he doesn't repeat an earlier reference to the "greatest commandment" in response to fancy rhetoric from a Pharisee to love God and neighbor.  This commandment is more to the need of the community of the faithful. Because if the community is not animated by love, love of God and love of neighbor grows out of fiction. What Christ is trying to establish is what grounds the community: love. Doctrinally, the Church is founded on Christ, which is all well and good; but it isn't a very practical statement without this "new commandment". Just as the popular phrase "believing in Jesus" isn't helpful in understanding what one must do with this belief, reciting doctrine or dogma can't substitute for love. Christianity is not merely a creed.

In our first reading, we get a sense of the heady times in the early Church. That although "it is necessary to undergo many hardships", people saw the love of Paul and Barnabas that drew them to worship Christ, which is to say, to join them on this "way".  They "opened the door of faith" by inviting them to share the journey, a journey animated by love.

It is easy to get lost in the rhetoric of Christianity and forget the commandment left us by Jesus to love one another as the very practical way of suggesting that if we are not a model of the Trinitarian love we profess, our faith is a sham. If we don't love one another and walk together sharing the hardships of being a community of faith, then the mission becomes a philosophy club with weekly rituals and catchy phrases.