Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 3rd, 2017)

Our first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah spoke the Lord’s word of truth during the terrifying time of the total and complete collapse of what had once been the mighty kingdom of David. The armies of Babylon were poised and ready to strike. The Babylonians would unleash a destructive power upon the Israelites that haunts the people of God to this very day. In 587 BC the armies of Babylon laid siege the city of Jerusalem and with lightning speed conquered the mighty city of David.

Jeremiah saw all this coming. He repeatedly warned the Israelites, but the distractions of wealth, pleasure, power and honors made them indifferent or hostile to the Lord’s prophet. When the end finally came, and the Babylonians had destroyed everything that the Israelites held dear, the Israelites turned on Jeremiah and killed him. Thus are the rewards of the prophets.

In today’s scripture, the prophet Jeremiah laments that his mission as a prophet has brought him nothing but suffering. He told the people the truth, but the people did not want the truth- what they wanted was affirmation. What the people wanted was for the prophet Jeremiah to tell them what they wanted to hear, to confirm them in their opinions and their prejudices.

And so the prophet Jeremiah is tempted- he could alleviate his suffering. He could profit from his prophecy, all he had to do was accommodate his message to his audience and tell the people what they wanted to hear.

All he had to do was lie.

But he cannot. The Lord’s word of truth is like a fire burning within him and when he speaks it is as if he is breathing that fire.

What is the lesson?

The mission of prophecy now resides by Christ’s will in his Church. And so it is that the Church must, like the prophet Jeremiah, tell us, not what we want to hear, but what the Lord commands his Church to preach. The Church is not ours, it is Christ’s, and the voice with which the Church is compelled by Christ to speak is Christ’s voice, not our own.

If it is not Christ’s voice with which the Church is speaking then the Church is faltering and failing in her mission.

The word of the Lord is as uncanny and off putting now as it was in the days of the prophet Jeremiah. In a world that prefers as its gods, the idols of wealth, pleasure, power and honor, the words of one true God, Jesus Christ, will always incite opposition. A world enamored by idols will tempt the Church to be silent or insist that it will reward the Church if her words simply sanction the opinions and prejudices of the people. Some in the Church will acquiesce to all this. Others, like the prophet Jeremiah, will breathe fire.

Our second scripture for today, an excerpt from the New Testament Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, insists that Christians not be conformed to the times in which they live, but rather offer to the times (to the world) an alternative, a different way of life. This unique way of life is one which has been transformed by one’s relationship with Christ in his Church.

This does not mean that one lives as if one’s way of life is merely a screed against the world, but instead as an invitation to a different way, one that is ordered by love of Christ and in his name, love of neighbor, a way of life that entails sacrifice, but that ultimately makes the world a better and more hopeful place.

The Church has as its mission to bear the power and presence of Jesus Christ into the world it does this through word and sacrament, but also through a way of life. Christian faith is not something that can only be preached, it must also be practiced if it is to deliver its true meaning and purpose.

The Church is attractive in every age of its long life, not because it accommodates or imitates the values of a given time, but because her way of life is unusual, different, and unique- like the Lord Jesus.

In his Gospel, the Lord Jesus testifies that his mission is to be publicly humiliated, to suffer and to die, and in doing so reveal God’s power in an extraordinary and unexpected way.

Peter will have none of this. His opposition to Christ may rise out of concern for his friend, but it more likely arises out of his expectation that Christ would reveal himself as a mighty conqueror and worldly king, who would crush his enemies with violence and rule through the force of his will. In the distortions of his spiritual vision, divine power is equated with worldly power- he doesn’t understand the difference. And so he misses the revelation.

Christ’s rebuke of Peter is brutal. He chastises him not just for missing the point, but for acting like the worst creature in the universe- Satan. What Christ is saying is that Peter doesn’t just want what he wants; Peter wants what the devil wants.

And lest his disciples think they are off the hook, he turns to them and informs them that everything he said would happen to him will likely happen to them as well. God in Christ means to transform the world through the power of love and true love manifests itself in suffering and in sacrifice.

And there is the harsh lesson- not just for Peter, but for all of us.

Most of us think at some point in our lives that we have God all figured out and the universe would be a far better one if only God would do what we want him to do and place his power at our disposal. Of course, in all this egoism and posturing, we are both flattering and fooling ourselves. Be honest: what would most of us do with God’s power?

That God’s ways are not our ways seems to many to be merely a cliché, but it is also true. And this truth is revealed in the most extraordinary way in the unusual, and at times disconcerting, revelation of Jesus Christ.

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Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time (August 21st, 2017)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Judges.  The Book of Judges presents an interim period in the history of the Israelites, the years between the Exodus from Egypt (remember, the Israelites had lanquished in slavery in Egypt for generations until the God of Israel defeated the gods of the Egyptians and liberated the Israelites from bondage) and the establishment of the monarchies of Saul and David.

The Judges are the men and women who provided leadership during this critical juncture in Israelite history.

Today’s scripture from the Book of Judges warns us against the sin of idolatry.  Idolatry is truly the capital sin of the bible.  There are more warnings about idolatry than any other transgression in the Bible and of the Ten great commandments, it is a warning against idolatry that is given priority.

Our understanding of idolatry should not be limited to that of the worship of pagan gods and goddesses.  Idolatry happens when we take any finite reality and elevate it to our ultimate concern and give it a place in our lives that should only properly belong to God.  Our idols can be such things as wealth, pleasure, power and honors, but it can also be things like ideology or the need to be right or to have things our way.  Many contemporary ideologies are the elevation of feelings to our ultimate concern.

The Bible is clear that nothing good comes from idols.  False gods allure us with false promises.  False gods destroy those who would worship them and thus does the one, true God burn with passionate intensity to warn us about idolatry and deliver us from their power.

The Book of Judges tells us that the best of the Israelite judges opposed the idolatry of the Israelites, thus also it should be with the leaders of the Church.

The Lord Jesus encounters a young man who asks him what he must do to attain eternal life?  Christ responds that fulfilling the precepts of the Ten Commandments will suffice.  The young man presents himself as willing to do more than this and Christ then asks him to abandon the pursuit of wealth, giving what he has to the poor, and placing his life wholly and completely at Christ’s disposal.

This the young man will not do and his refusal results in much grief.

The highest expression of the Christian spiritual life is expressed in the rigorous demands of what are called the evangelical counsels- poverty, chastity and obedience.  These values constitute a way of life of total and complete dedication to Christ, not just in some things, but in all things.  It is not an easy way, and not all will be able to live out the evangelical counsels in their fullest expressions.

Those who are able are Christ’s great athletes.

All of Christians must accept the evangelical counsels, even if it means we accept them at less than their fullest expression.  Wealth should not be squandered, but given over to help the needy.  A Christian recognizes that no one is simply a means to satisfy our base desires.  Adherence to the command of Christ to love God and neighbor is not merely an option.

The Christian spiritual life demands more of us than adherence to the 10 Commandments.  Living a way of life integrated by the 10 Commandments is basic to the Christian life, it is ordinary not extraordinary.

The extraordinary way takes us where the young man in the Gospel would not go- accepting less for ourselves so that others might have more, disciplining our desires and ordering them to Christ’s will and purposes, and seeking to live in communion with Christ, not just in those things that we choose, but in all that Christ chooses for us.

 

Hofmann Christ and the rich young ruler 1889

 

 

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 20th, 2017)

 

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, one of the lengthiest in the Bible, expresses God’s perspective in regards to some of the most momentous, indeed troubling events in the history of the Israelites.  Kings and nations and fall.  The people suffer triumph and tragedy.  Hymns of praise and lament are sung.  Monuments are raised and brought down. The prophets speak.  And God acts.  He acts in the midst of real world circumstances in ways that surprise and confound us.

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Isaiah speaks of a holy mountain upon which all Israelites will one day gather, but not the Israelites alone will be assembled in this sacred place.  The Israelites will be joined by foreigners, those whom had been previously been excluded from the Israelite way of life and worship.  This is God’s plan.  This is God’s will.  He means to gather his chosen people along with all the nations of the earth and once gathered, he will offer them the opportunity to worship him as he intends for them to worship.

The holy mountain that the prophet envisions is coded language for the temple, the great sanctuary in Jerusalem, where the divine presence dwelled and that was the singular place where the Israelites gathered to worship.  But the holy mountain of Isaiah is a new kind of temple, established by the Lord not just for the Israelites, but for the nations.  In this new temple, God’s presence would reside.  In this new temple, the nations would be gathered for worship.

Christians believe that this new temple is the mystical Body of Christ which we experience as the Church and the worship of this new temple is the Mass.  In these ways do we see and understand that the vision of the Prophet Isaiah is being fulfilled in reality, in the here and now.  The house of prayer for all peoples is the Church and the prayer of the people is the prayer of the Mass.

Thus, do we believe that God in Christ is bringing the prophecy of Isaiah to its fulfillment.

The Church and its worship, the Mass, are not just constructs of culture, artifacts of history, or expressions of ethnic identity.  The Church does not gather for worship to celebrate itself or express appreciation for the good deeds of the community.  The Church’s worship is not intended as a form of peculiar religious entertainment.

Instead the meaning and purpose of the Church and the Mass is discerned in reference to the prophecies of the Old Testament and the Revelation of God in Christ.  It is only in reference to these that meaning and purpose of the Church and the Mass can be understood.

The prophet Isaiah testifies today that the Church is to be the gathering of the nations for worship in a new kind of temple.  God in Christ reveals that this gathering of nations is his Church, and the worship he gives to this assembly, the worship he wants, is the prayer of the Mass.

This is the meaning of today’s first scripture.

The Church’s second scripture for today is an excerpt from the New Testament Letter to the Romans.  The author of the Letter to the Romans is the apostle Paul.

The great theme of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is the extraordinary way God has acted in Christ to draw both the Israelites and the Gentiles into a new kind of communion with one another, a new kind of communion the Apostle speaks of as a new kind of Israel, a new kingdom with a new king- a kingdom that is God’s that is meant to include all the peoples of the earth and a new king who is God in Christ himself!

This new kingdom and new king is offered to all people by God as an extraordinary opportunity, but while it is offered to all, God in Christ imposes it on no one.  Our acceptance of communion with God’s new Israel, his new kingdom and the new king, God in Christ, is meant to be a free act of our will.  God chooses us all for his kingdom, but then we must choose what our relationship to the king and the kingdom will be.

It is deeply mysterious to the Apostle Paul that some, who have been offered communion with the new Israel, with the new kingdom and the new king, have refused God in Christ’s invitation.  Many refused in the time of the Apostles.  And many refuse God’s invitation today.

St. Paul ponders this refusal in today’s excerpt from his Letter to the Romans.  He wonders what such a refusal means and testifies that God must permit it to reveal something extraordinary and wonderful.

What this extraordinary and wonderful thing must be is that God reveals in the face of our refusals to accept an offer of his mercy.  A mercy is an act of compassion that is undeserved and inexplicable.  It seems, that God in Christ remains faithful even when we are unfaithful, and willing to forgive us, when we do not deserve his forgiveness.  God’s mercy in Christ is revealed, not as a willingness to accept us simply as we are, but as a prompt for us to change. In his mercy, God in Christ does not meet our refusal with a threat, but with an open invitation.  His offer of the gift of the new kingdom and the new king still stands, even should we refuse to take it.  Christ reveals that God in his mercy offers us the possibility of another chance.

It is God’s mercy that is for St. Paul so extraordinary and wonderful.  God reveals himself in Christ as being capable of an uncanny generosity, of giving to us his forgiveness, even when we do not deserve it, and imparting mercy, when what simple justice would require would be his wrath.

As believers in Christ, we accept that the privileged moment of God’s mercy, the sacred encounter where God offers us another chance, happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  In this Sacrament, God in Christ acts to meet our refusals with the extraordinary gift of his mercy.  This Sacrament is a privileged encounter with Christ and the means by which his mercy meets and overcomes our refusals.

Finally, Christ speaks to us in his Gospel, which presents an extraordinary encounter between the Lord Jesus and a Canaanite woman.

 

The details that the woman Christ meets happens to be a Canaanite is not incidental.  This person belongs to a nation that was one of the great enemies of the Israelites.  Emnity and hatred between Israelites and Canaanites was ancient with both peoples bearing grudges and tearing open old wounds that went back generations to time immemorial.

And yet, this woman, an enemy of the Israelites, comes to Christ, who is himself the God of the Israelites, seeking his aid, confident of his help.

And to her surprise. and the surprise of Christ’s Israelite companions, Christ, the God of the Israelites comes to the aid of the woman and answers the pleading of a Canaanite.

The God of Israel will help.  He will even help those who have been his enemies.

This confounds and confuses many Christians today as much as it confounded and confused the Israelites who knew God in Christ face to face.

Many believe that the power of God is a power that we can wield against those who might oppose us.  Many believe that God will justify us in our hatred and sanction us in our pain filled unwillingness to ever forgive.

But God in Christ reveals something else about God.  He is not a totem to be carried into our battles against our enemies or a power to be leveraged on behalf of our causes.  He is not a force that we are to apply to those who disappoint us or a sentence of condemnation we pass on those who might disagree with us.

He trivializes our worldly divisions with the offer of his grace.

He intends to do to our enemies what he did for the Canaanite woman.

The lesson?

God in Christ intends to gather the Israelites and Canaanites (enemies) together for worship on his holy mountain.  He wants to gather us there too…

 

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Friday of the Second Week of Easter (April 28th, 2017)

Our first scripture, an excerpt from the New Testament Book of Acts, describes the Church in crisis- facing a persecution that threatens its young life.

An unexpected advocate emerges who intervenes on behalf of the persecuted Christians, insisting that the Church’s opponents stand down and let the Christians alone. Time will tell if this new movement survives, and as the Church is beleaguered and weak, it poses no real threat. And besides, if the Church is, as the adherents of this new Faith testify, a work of God, no merely human power will be able to stop it.

This advice seems to be accepted and the persecutors relent, at least for a time.

The Church has known persecution in every age of its life. Hatred from the outside oppresses the Church while wickedness from the inside subverts her mission- and yet the Church mysteriously endures. Why? Not because of merely human ingenuity or accident. But, instead, the Church endures because the Church is not merely an institution, a construct of our own making, but instead is mystically Christ’s Body, the continuation of his Incarnation in space and in time. The Church is Christ’s life and presence enduring in history. Like his earthly body, the Church is afflicted and suffers, but this affliction and suffering cannot overpower the divine power of God that the Church, as the mystical body of Christ, bears into the world. And because the divine power of Christ resides in the Church, affliction and suffering can become redemptive.

The early Christians knew and believed this. Do we?

Today’s Gospel is a brief selection from the Gospel of John, testimony to the divine power of Christ to work miracles. What does Christ do? He multiplies mere fragments of bread and fish so as, to satisfy the hunger of a vast crowd.

Christ does what only God can do, and in doing what God can do, he gestures towards the mystery of his identity- that he is God.

But today’s mysterious revelation in the Gospel does not just signal to us Christ’s divine identity, but also presents a type or foreshadowing of the mystery of the Eucharist.

How so? The Eucharist is a marvelous intervention of God in our lives, bearing into our lives a power that effects a surprising change- mere fragments of food and drink become Christ’s Body and Blood, imbued with his divine power to reconcile us to God and draw us into an extraordinary relationship with him.

The Eucharist is no more just a symbol or metaphor than it is merely bread and wine. The Eucharist we receive is Christ’s life and presence, given to us as food and drink, given to us, to satisfy the hunger of our souls for communion with God, but also given to us, so that partaking of his life, our life might become like his.

May we who partake of this holy mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood, appreciate what Christ is giving to us, and permit ourselves to become like the One that we receive.

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Funeral Homily

(The following text is the notes for the homily I delivered at the funeral Mass for my father. May all the blessed dead know the solace of the beatific vision and help us as we make our own pilgrim way to a world that is yet to come).

The Church’s first scripture proclamation was an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the prophet Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah spoke the Lord’s word of truth centuries before the revelation of Christ, and in his spiritual vision, foresaw Christ’s revelation.

In this scripture, the prophet Isaiah envisions a holy mountain, upon which God will act to destroy the power of death and deliver his people from power of their sins. Is this holy mountain an actual place or merely a dream? When will God act to accomplish such wonders?

The holy mountain the prophet foresees is the place of Christ’s cross, for it is in this place, and at that moment, that God acted in an extraordinary way to impart an undeserved forgiveness and to transform death forever. Remember, the revelation of Christ is not merely that of a kind teacher of timeless spiritual truths, but of the one, true God, who surprises us all, because he does something God should not do- he accepts for himself a human nature and lives a real, human life.

God in Christ does this, not for himself, but for us, so that he might create for us a possibility beyond death and so that we might know that his power is manifested in his willingness to love us and forgive us, even when that love and forgiveness is not deserved or appreciated.

Christians believe that God in Christ enters into death on the cross so that when we die, as all mortal creatures do, what we encounter in that experience is not merely an end, but a new and mysterious beginning. Death has become in Christ a route of access to God because God in Christ has permitted himself to die.

In that moment of his experience of death (on the cross), God in Christ does something remarkable, and again, surprising, he demonstrates his willingness to forgive us and this act of generosity, for his forgiveness is undeserved, gives us hope that what we encounter after death is not a cold rebuke, but a merciful Savior, the one who will, as the Gospel testifies, “save us from our sins”- from what we have done and what we have failed to do.

The prophet Isaiah foresaw all this in shadows and suggestions. God would reveal centuries later in Christ the Lord what the prophet Isaiah foresaw, what we know and believe in Christ.

The second scripture is another excerpt from the scriptures- this time from the New Testament, from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. In this text, the Apostle Paul testifies to the power of the Sacrament of Baptism to change us, to transform us. St. Paul illuminates God’s purpose for Baptism.

Baptism is not, as many have made it, merely a quaint cultural custom. Instead it is an act of God, a revelation and through this act of God, this revelation, a Christian is changed, not by human choice or merely an act of our will, but by God’s choice and God’s will. God chooses us and through Baptism he changes us, making us his members of his family, giving us the identity that the Lord Jesus himself has- the identity of a child of God. In other words, through our baptism we belong to God in a way that a child belongs to his parent or a person belongs to her family. What Christ has in his own relationship with his Heavenly Father, the baptized are also given.

The significance of this is profound. Throughout our lives we grasp at (or are grasped by) identities that we might be tempted to treat as being of ultimate importance- family, nationality, political affiliation, race, ethnicity, class etc. And while these identities have worldly importance, they are not all that important to God. And God signals the relative importance of these worldly identities by making these things temporary, passing away, we take none of these identities from this world to the next. These things are inevitably left behind.

Worldly identities, or things of worldly importance, like beauty, youth, athletic prowess, academic degrees, bank accounts, real estate, (all the things the world believes matter most) pass away and do so by their very nature. We can enjoy these things for a time, but all these things have an expiration date and they will not pass with us from this life to the next.

What does last is that relationship given to us in Baptism, our identity as a child of God and a member of God’s own family. When we meet Christ face to face, this is what he sees, this is what we bring to him.

This is the meaning of St. Paul’s testimony to us today.

Finally, in his Gospel, Christ testifies that he will give his divine life to us as food and drink. He does not come to us merely to teach us ideas about God, but he comes to be for us a living source of holy communion with God. What we receive in Christ is not merely an insight or an opinion, but God himself- and how will God in Christ give himself to us?

Christ will give himself to us through the mysterious reality that we know as the Eucharist, the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood. The Eucharist is mysteriously God in Christ, not merely a symbol of Christ, but God in Christ himself. God’s life is not far from us and his presence is not off somewhere at a distance. God reveals himself, not merely in ideas or opinions, or as a vague cosmic force, but he places himself in our midst in the Eucharist and then through that Eucharist, asks us to receive him, in the manner one receives food and drink. This is the Eucharist- God in Christ gives us a share in his divine life and presence as food and as drink. Thus, in the Eucharist, we do not simply remember Christ as a historical reality from the past, but we encounter Christ in the present. The Eucharist is Christ’s revelation in this world, in our lives, in the here and in the now.

Receiving God as food and drink we have an opportunity to become ever more like him. Receiving God in the Eucharist we have an opportunity to become more that what believe that we are- we can become ever more like Christ.

This is the great mystery, and the great meaning of the testimony we heard from the Gospel of John today.

Over eighty years ago, **** ****** was baptized. (Whether the motive for this Baptism was custom or something else is not as important as the gift that he received). This gift, this Baptism, indicated that God in Christ had chosen **** as his own and given him a mission, a meaning and purpose for his life.

Over time, the mystery of **** Baptism would unfold, leading him through the other Sacraments, of Eucharist and Confirmation, and what was given to him through these Sacraments was the startling revelation that God reveals himself in Jesus Christ to be Love.

The revelation that in Christ God is Love is given to us in a way of life called the Church. In the Church, we do our best to become for others an experience of the love that God in Christ has given to us. The Church is meant to be a way of life, a way of love.

Love is not for the Christian merely a sentiment or a feeling, but a way of life. Love is what we do for others by doing what God in Christ asks of us- willing for others what is good, testifying to what is true, appreciating what is beautiful, and giving to others what merciful.

The way of love, the Christian way of life, takes the form of a unique mission or vocation and **** accepted this in the Sacrament of Marriage and through his relationship with his wife, *****, and in communion with his children and grandchildren, family and friends, he sought to give to others the gift he had received in his own Baptism- the way of love.

We would know, through him, through sacrifices great and small, through a low-key death to self (that would set the needs of others as more important than his own needs), how God in Christ loves all of us.

Love in any of our lives is never perfect in its expression or motive, but **** sought, as best he could, to impart to others what God imparts to us- what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful- the gift he has received from the Lord he gave to others.

St. John of the Cross, one of the Church’s greatest mystics, remarked that in the evening of our lives, we are examined by love. This means, as years pass, and worldly concerns and pre-occupations become ever less important, it is our love, for God and for others, that remains, and it is this love that we take with us as we make our way from this life to the next.

Concluding Remarks

(These remarks were offered at the conclusion of the Funeral Mass)

On behalf of my mother and my brothers, I would like to express our deep appreciation for all the gestures of consolation and kindness that we have received. These past two weeks have been the occasion for both grief and grace and the support that we have experienced from family and friends has been gracious indeed.

I cannot do a better job testifying to the life and interests of my father than my brother did in the text of the obituary that he wrote. My father was a thoughtful and kind man, who was faithful to his wife of nearly sixty years and whose quiet influence is manifest in the lives of his children and grandchildren. We will miss him, but his faith, faith that believed that life is not ended but changed, enlivens us with a hope greater than mere memory, a hope that believes that he is still with us in ways that are unseen, and that he awaits us in a heavenly life that is yet to come.

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 29th, 2017)

 

The first of the Church’s scriptures for today is an excerpt from the book of the

Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah. Zephaniah spoke the Lord’s word of truth in

the years preceding a horrific catastrophe- the destruction of the Kingdom

established by David by the armies of Babylon. This catastrophe is foreseen by

Zephaniah, but he discerns more than destruction- God will act, the prophet

testifies, God will act to effect the restoration of his people. But this restoration

will not produce an Israel like before, worldly, pre-occupied with wealth, pleasure,

power and honors, but an Israel that will manifest to the world their relationship

with God through humility and lowliness. The mighty kingdom of David will pass

away, but the remnant, what appears to the world to be nothing and nobodies,

will be precisely the means through which God reveals himself to the world.

 

In other words, Zephaniah understood the catastrophe that the Israelites would

face, the loss of everything the world considered to be important, to be not just a

loss, but an opportunity. Stripped of worldliness, Israel might become what God

had intended his people to be- true representatives to the world of the one, living

and true God. Bereft of the distractions of wealth, pleasure, power and honor,

the Israelites might better appreciate and understand what it truly mean to be

God’s chosen people.

 

The lesson in all this for us is properly understood by correlating or connecting

what the prophet Zephaniah says to the Israelites and to the Church. The

prophet’s words are for us- for the Church (and by Church I do not mean just the

hierarchy, but all the baptized). How are we enamored by worldliness? How

much of our time and efforts is spent in pursuit of wealth, pleasure, power and

honors? And what does our attainment of worldly things contribute to our

mission as representatives of God in the world? The prophet insists that the

chosen people of God will make him known in humility and lowliness- what would

the prophet make of us? What does God make of us?

 

The Church’s second scripture is from the New Testament letter of St. Paul to the

Corinthians. In this text, the Apostle Paul speaks of a reality that appears to the

worldly to be foolish and weak, a nothing and a nobody, contemptible and

despised. What is this reality of held in such contempt by the worldly?

 

It is Christ and those who belong to him- Christ and his Church.

 

However, what appears to so worthy of the world’s contempt, is in actual fact,

God and his chosen people. In other words, the worldly have got everything

wrong- what the worldly think is power is actually their own weakness, and what

the world thinks is glory, is actually their own foolish pride. What the worldly

think matters most, doesn’t actually matter all that much at all.

 

In Christ, God reveals himself to the world in a way that confounds and confuses

all the expectations of who God is and what he is supposed to do. In Christ, God

makes himself small, in fact, he makes himself seem like a nothing or a nobody,

going so far to allow himself to be maligned, tortured and executed, all so that he

can reveal his power over death, and in doing so, show the worldly just how

empty their own claims to power really and truly are.

 

As it is with Christ, so it is with his Church. Real power, divine power in the

Church is not revealed by those who manage her wealth, preside over her

bureaucracies, or who receive the most in terms of public attention. Real power,

divine power, in the Church is foremost revealed in her Sacraments and in her

Saints- for in her Sacraments and Saints, the Church is most like Christ. The world,

indeed many in the Church, think little of either the Sacraments or the Saints,

preferring the Church’s wealth and power as their preoccupation, but true power

resides in the Sacraments and the Saints. The worldly cannot see and appreciate

this, but to those who are faithful to Christ- they see things rightly and they

appreciate and they understand.

 

Finally, the Church presents to us a select passage from the Gospel of Matthew-

and it is one of the most cherished and renowned passages in the Gospel!

 

The Gospel for today are the Lord Jesus’ own words concerning beatitude or

blessedness. In other words, how does one discern God’s favor?

 

Whom does God single out for his particular attention? Who are the ones that

God chooses to be the means through which he reveals his will and his purposes?

 

The answer to this is revealed to us by God in Christ in today’s Gospel.

 

The worldly insist that divine favor is manifested in worldly attainments- in

wealth, in pleasure, in power and in honors. The worldly prize success in terms of

worldly attainments- who is the richest, who is the most powerful, who is it that is

recognized and rewarded, who is it that lives in comfort and security? The

worldly consider such success as blessedness, as beatitude. These things

represent God’s favor and having these things is the measure, the evidence of

blessedness or beatitude.

 

But God in Christ reveals something else entirely. God in Christ identifies himself

with those who often have little of what the worldly deem to be valuable and

important. In his beatitudes, in his revelation of who is truly blessed by God and

why, Christ overturns our expectations of who has divine favor and what it really

means to be in an authentic and true relationship with God.

Sermon on the Mount
Copenhagen Church Alter Painting

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 3rd, 2016)

This morning’s scripture from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah presents the city of Jerusalem personified as mother, feeding and nurturing her children. Remember, Jerusalem was not just a city, but instead it is a representation of the spiritual heart of the Israelites. It was in the temple of Jerusalem that the one, true and living God made his home and shared his life and presence with Israel, and through Israel, with the world. Isaiah imagines Jerusalem as the mother of all the Israelites.

This imagery is understood by Christians as now an image of the Church, which is not merely an institution, but is properly likened to be our mother, for it is from the Church that we are reborn in Christ through Baptism, fed and nurtured with Christ’s Word and Sacraments, and when mature in our faith, sent out as witnesses into the world.

Many Christians have sadly come to have an impersonal, institutional understanding of the Church- she is no longer a nurturing mother, but an “it”- a non profit corporation whose resources are meant to be leveraged on behalf of our causes. The “it” Church produces little in terms of life, if any life at all and cannot nurture us as no one is ever nurtured by balance sheets, actuarial tables and procedural manuals. Some prefer the “it” Church because, unlike a mother, there is no moral demand placed on us to love her in return and no reason to care for her as one would care for one’s own mother.

Instead, the Church as an “it” or as a corporation is a thing to be used, and if no longer useful, cast aside. This would not be as easy if one considered the Church to be one’s mother.

But the Church is our mother. And we are diminished when we try to make the Church into in “it” rather than accept her for who she really and truly is.

Our second scripture for today is an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

In this text, the Apostle Paul testifies that he boasts (celebrates) in the cross of Jesus Christ. To us, Christians, perhaps over familiar with the cross of Jesus Christ, and so often accustomed to the cross as merely a vague religious symbol or as a religious trinket, it might seem that the Apostle Paul’s boast is unintelligible. What does he mean? Why does he boast in the cross?

Remember, for St. Paul, the cross was not a universally recognized symbol of Christianity, it was an instrument of torture upon which human beings were killed in the most shaming and brutal way possible. Nothing was worse than the cross and no one in their right mind would boast in the cross- the cross provoked only derision and fear.

Not for St. Paul. And not for us. Why?

For St. Paul, the cross represents the unimaginable- God in Christ descends into shame, into suffering, into death. The cross is not simply the occasion in which Christ dies heroically, merely as a martyr for a cause, but it is a startling revelation that illuminates God’s willingness to identify himself with humanity, not just in some things, but in the midst of all the events and circumstances of life- even shame, even suffering, even death.

The entry of God into our shame, our suffering, our death, transforms the reality of these experiences forever. However these things might feel or seem, God is with us in the midst of them, and he is there with all his power to save, to transform and redeem. We may not be exempt from the experience of the hard facts of being human, but we are not alone as we make our way through them- God is with us. How do we know?

The cross. Christ’s cross.

If God can transform his cross into an occasion for hope and resurrection, we can trust in his promise, that he will not allow our shame to be without vindication, our suffering to be devoid of meaning and our death to be our final end. The Christian does not believe in a God who remains aloof and distant from the world or who engages with us as some vague cosmic force.

The Christian believes in God in our flesh, God in Christ, the one, true God who accepts a human nature and lives a real human life. The God who unites his divine nature to our own nature, and through the power of that divine nature, penetrates to the depths of all that it means to be human- even the experiences of shame, suffering and death. And because of the God in whom we believe, do we Christians, along with St. Paul, boast in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Today’s Christ presents Christ the Lord appointing seventy two disciples to go out on mission, sharing with others what they have received from Christ.

This Gospel passage mirrors Moses appointing elders for the Israelites in the Old Testament Books of Exodus and Numbers (Numbers 11:16 and Exodus 18:25). In other words, we are to understand Christ as acting as a new Moses, having founded a new kind of Israel, he calls forth from this new Israel, servants for the mission of the new Israel.

The new Israel is the Church.

Pope Francis aptly refers to Christians who are mature in their faith as being missionary disciples. We are as disciples the servants of the Lord Jesus and our service to the Lord Jesus takes the shape or form as a very specific mission.

This mission is to introduce others to the Lord Jesus and invite people to share a relationship with Christ in the Church. In other words, our mission is to increase the numbers of the new Israelites, going out, as these first 72 disciples, as missionaries.

To be a missionary seems to many Christians to indicate oversees social work in third world countries, but this is really the wrong way to think about what it means to be a missionary. Christ calls people into relationship with him in the Church so that they can be his missionaries. Which means, missionary is not the work of a privileged few in the Church, but all the baptized. Missionary is to happen, not just as social work in countries far away, but in our own neighborhoods.

The public (and private) spaces right outside the doors of this church, indeed, right outside the doors of your own home, (including the family that dwells within your home) are the people that every baptized Christian has a responsibility to introduce to Jesus Christ. This missionary task is not a job for someone else- it is your responsibility and it is Jesus Christ himself who has asked you to do it.

Are you ready for this mission?

For many years, parishes, have been considered by many Christians, as branch offices of a corporation church from which a person can receive faith based services if the requisite fees are paid and the correct procedures are followed. This understanding of the parish has dominated people’s perceptions and the spiritual poverty it has inflicted on people has left the Church in a state of precipitous decline.

The work of the Church was limited to paid professionals and the mission of the Church reduced to matriculating through institutions and programs.

All this has been contrary to the nature of the Church as presented in the great Second Vatican Council, the Magisterium (teaching authority of the Church) and the modern popes from Pius XII to Pope Francis (and most importantly, but the Lord Jesus himself). The Church is not merely an institution, but a mission, and a parish is not merely a branch office of a faith based corporation, but it is mission territory- it is the area that a community of missionary disciples has been assigned in which they work to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite them to share a relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church.

Is this how you understand what a parish is and does? Is this how you understand who you are and what Christ wants you to do?

To be a Christian is to be a missionary disciple- and unless this is who you are and what you aspire to be, the Church will falter and fail.

But if you will to become the missionary disciples Christ desires you to be, that like the 72 chosen to be missionaries in today’s Gospel, you will witness a Church that flourishes and grows!

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