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

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 26th, 2016)

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

The Book of Kings is one of the historical books of the Bible, describing people, events and circumstances that contributed to the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David. The Kingdom of David is important because it was the means that God used to unite the tribes of the Israelites into a single people. Strengthened by their unity, the Israelites could better accomplish their mission, which was to invite the world into a relationship with the one, true God.

The Kingdom of David was subverted from its beginning by pride and idolatry, yet despite human folly, God’s plan would be accomplished. God’s plan was fulfilled when the Christ-child was born into a remnant of the family of King David. Thus God came into the world. The Kingdom of David would fail to bring the world to God and so God would come into the world in Christ.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of David, God would send prophets to the Israelites to remind them of their unique mission. Two of the greatest of these prophets were Elijah and Elisha. Both men were forces to be reckoned with, great wonderworkers and today’s scripture details how the prophet Elisha was summoned by God to mission.

Elisha abandons everything the world considers to be important- his family and wealth- for the sake of his mission. His focus on what the Lord wants him to do will be singular. He risks poverty and loneliness, trusting that God will provide for what he lacks. Heroic efforts always necessitate heroic commitment and true prophets are God’s heroes and no one becomes a hero without risk and sacrifice. Where an act of faith in God is accompanied by risk and sacrifice you have the possibility of a hero and the potential for a saint.

The heroism of Elijah and Elisha, indeed of all the biblical prophets endures in the Church in those men and women who eschew family and wealth for the sake of the Church’s mission. These men and women can be found in what are called religious orders, communities like the Benedictines, Franciscans and Dominicans. Without the witness of the prophets, the Israelites languished in mediocrity and lost a sense of God’s purpose for their lives. Without the witness of men and women religious, the Church falters and fails in its mission.

The Church is not merely a secular corporation or a nation state, whose goals can be accomplished by only by salaried employees and bureaucrats. God advances the mission of the Church through the efforts of men and women willing to take great risks and make great sacrifices. Inasmuch as the Church’s communities of prophets, men and women who accept a religious life of risk and sacrifice, fade and diminish, so also will the Church. As the Church fades and diminishes, so also does the love of Christ that the Church bears into a loveless world.

The mission of the Church by necessity requires heroes- men and women of risk and sacrifice. The age of God’s heroes did not end with Elijah or Elisha, but even now is the age of heroes. Who are God’s heroes right now? Who will be God’s heroes for his Church? Who is God calling into mission- into risk and sacrifice? Is it you? Remember: It is not just you who choose your mission- it is God who has chosen a mission for you.

In the Church’s second reading for today the Apostle Paul offers a distinction between a way of life which is given direction by the flesh in contrast with a way of life given direction by the spirit.

This might seem confusing. St. Paul is using the categories of “flesh” and “spirit” to indicate the difference between a way of life that is directed by God’s purpose as contrasted with a way of life that is directed by self-interested or self-indulgent purposes.

A self-interested or self-indulgent way of life tends towards conflict, antagonism and violence, whereas a truly spiritual life, one that is intentionally directed towards God’s purpose tends toward love- and by love St. Paul means willing, or desiring, the greatest good for other people.

St. Paul muses that if only we could love one another as Christ has commanded us to love, then most of the laws that become so necessary to reign in our selfish ambitions and desires, laws that can so quickly become stifling and oppressive would fall away. Loving as Christ loves opens up for us the possibility of true freedom, for freedom is not getting to do what we want, but doing what is good.

Love for the Christian is not merely an emotional experience or the fulfillment of a personal desire. Love is an act of the will, and it is willing for another person what is really and truly good. This good is not by necessity what the person wants, or even what you prefer to give, but it is what is good, it is the good that God wants.

Love reduced to emotional need or affectation will inevitably lead to antagonism and conflict. It becomes an exercise in self-interest and self indulgence. Love expressed as willing what it is truly good for other people is the manner in which God in Christ loves us and it is the way in which Christ commands us to love one another.

Christ the Lord has some words of advice for his disciples as they go out into a culture on mission. Remember, the purpose of the Church is missionary. The Church is not merely a faith-based clubhouse or an institution that we matriculate through and use to fulfill our personal goals. The Church is a missionary endeavor. The mission of the Church is to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite people to share his unique way of life. Through the Church people meet the Lord Jesus and from the Church people receive from him the gifts he wants people to enjoy.

Christ’s advice to us as we go out into our neighborhood and introduce people to Christ is this:

Number One: Accept people’s hesitancy, even opposition, with an attitude of kindness. Do not threaten those who refuse our invitation. As Pope Benedict aptly said the Church proposes, it does not impose. We seek freedom to live our unique way of life, but our way of life must be freely chosen, it cannot be imposed on people by force or threats.

Number Two: Mission will always entail sacrifice and risk as well as an attitude of trust in God to provide what we need. You cannot, as a disciple, postpone your mission until you have everything figured out. We might have plans, but Christ’s plan takes precedence. What Christ asks of us is never all that easy, and at times outcomes may be uncertain, but as I said earlier, without risk and sacrifice there cannot be heroes and Christ wants us to be his heroes- he wants us to be his saints.

Number Three: Mission necessitates that we have a broader understanding of family than one that is limited to merely our own relatives. The Gospel expands our sense of family to include people in our lives who are not related to us, different than us, and people who we may not of our own desire want to know or become friends with.

The Church cannot by her essential nature simply be limited to those people with whom we are related, or those people whom we feel comfortable with, or those people that we prefer to associate with. Christ makes the Church his family and chooses those whom he wants to be in his household. The Church is not a sect or a club. The Church is not simply an expression of nationality or ethnicity. The Church is the people Christ has chosen, not only those people that we have chosen.

The Church is not just ours to make into whatever we want, it is a gift that we receive from Christ and this gift is a mission- a mission to introduce people to Jesus Christ and share with people the gifts that Christ wants all people to enjoy!

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Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 19th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament book of the Prophet Zechariah. The prophet Zechariah proclaimed God’s truth during a time of restoration and renewal for the Israelites. A time of great trial and tribulation was coming to an end, as the Israelites were freed to return to their ancestral lands after a long and painful exile in Babylon. The Israelites had languished in Babylon as captives after the catastrophic events of 587 BC, when the Kingdom of David came to a violent end, conquered by the armies of Babylon.

The Israelites had literally lost everything in 587 BC, but during the ministry of the Prophet Zechariah, things changed in favor of the Israelites. The Israelites were going home. Thus the prophet Zechariah proclaims that God has given the Israelites a second chance and new opportunities.

 

The specific passage from the Prophet Zechariah you heard today is very mysterious. He foresees that one day the Israelites will look upon a man who is pierced, and in their grief they will recognize that God has visited his people in an extraordinary way, and from this pierced man will come forth an opportunity for communion with God.

Christians have understood the Zechariah’s words as referring to Christ. Christ is the pieced one of Zechariah’s vision, a vision that becomes reality in his cross, which is contrary to all appearances, God’s means of offering us communion with his divine life.

This might seem hard to understand, but here in your sanctuary is a monumental representation of Zechariah’s vision- the image of the crucified Savior, the pierced and wounded Christ. This image of Christ crucified is not merely a decoration, but a point of reference that helps you to understand what is happening in this place, in the Holy Communion of the Mass. It is always in relationship, in communion with the Pierced Christ that God reveals himself to us.

For it is the cross that God’s identification, his relationship with us is most profound and deep- God experiences for himself the pain of suffering and the loneliness of death. God is with us, and he is with us, not just in some things, or in pleasant things, but in all things, all the events and circumstances of life. This is the covenant of his Body and his Blood (the Pierced Christ)- it is his promise that he keeps and it is the promise that he renews each time the Mass is offered and the Blessed Sacrament is adored and received.

The Church’s second scripture is an excerpt from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians. In his testimony, St. Paul makes it very clear that the categories of identity that the world considers important- political, ethnic, familial, economic, cultural are not as important as the identity that is given to us through our Baptism, the identity that comes from being in relationship with Christ.

All the worldly categories that we prize and deem so important will all one day fall away. When we meet the Lord Jesus face to face, all the worldly markers of identity that we cherish and value will merit barely a fraction of a second of the Lord’s attention. He will not see us in accord with the identities that we construct out of our worldly categories, but will know us and measure us and judge us only in reference to the identity that he has given us- that being a son and daughter of God.

This is not pious boilerplate. It is a revelation. In the end, when each of us comes to meet Christ face to face, he will not ask us what political party we belonged to, or what university we attended, or what degrees we attained. He will not ask us how much wealth we created or the status of the corporations we owned or worked for. Christ will not ask us our nationality or ethnicity or our family name. What he will be interested in is what we did with the gifts he bestowed on us, the opportunities he placed before us to love and to serve- and most importantly he will demand to know whether or not the Baptism he gave us was appreciated and taken seriously.

We might not take our Baptism seriously, reducing it to merely a quaint custom, convince ourselves nothing much is at stake in our Baptism, but God in Christ takes it very seriously, because it is the only identity we take with us from this life to the next. Any identity that we have in this world passes away in the world to come- except that identity that comes from our Baptism.

The Christian knows this, and for this reason, the Christian does not cling to worldly identities that are passing away, but holds fast to the identity Christ gives to us in Baptism- the identity of being a beloved member of God’s household, a member of his family, a brother or sister of the Lord Jesus- a son or daughter of God.

This is the meaning of the Apostle Paul’s testimony, his insistence that for those who are baptized in Christ, all are one, and the worldly distinctions we make absolute and cling to, are all just passing away.

Much of the hard work of being a disciple is letting go of worldly identities and coming to fully accept our Baptismal identity, our relationship with Christ.

Christ begs a question of his disciples in his Gospel, and in begging a question of his first disciples- he begs the same question of us- who do you say that I am?

Note that Christ has only cursory interest in what others have to say about him. He is not interested in a disinterested answer, the kind of answer a journalist or historian or biographer would contrive.

Instead he insists that each of his disciples answer the question personally- and further, he indicates that there are many wrong answers and only one answer that is really and truly right. Our idea about him, or our opinions or our feelings do not make him who he is. He is always boldly and serenely himself. Christ is asking us to profess our faith and to tell the truth. Who do we think that he is- and in terms of what we think, are we getting him right or just making things up, or worse, remaining passive and indifferent.

Do we know who the Lord Jesus really and truly is?

Now mind you, the question is not what we know ABOUT the Lord Jesus, but whether or not we know him personally- as one knows a friend. To be in relationship with Jesus Christ is to be a friend of God. It is only in this relationship of friendship that the fullness, the grace and truth of the Lord Jesus is revealed.

If we truly know Christ as a friend, then we can introduce him to others, and in our willingness to introduce others to Christ, the Church can flourish and grow.

But if we do not know Christ as one knows a friend, then the Church will falter and fail, for the purpose of the Church is to serve as a means of introducing people to Jesus Christ.

You see, the Church is not merely an institution we fund with our surplus wealth or a private religious club of our own making. The Church is the means that God in Christ has chosen to make himself known. The Church is first and foremost, the way Christ chooses to introduce himself to people. It is through the Church that a relationship with Jesus Christ happens and it is relationship to Christ and the Church that one becomes a Christian.

Therefore, being a Christian, is not about being a privileged recipient of faith based services or matriculating through Catholic-themed institutions. You can do these things and still not be a Christian- or worse, be a bad Christian.

Being a Christian, in faith and in truth, is about knowing Jesus Christ as one knows a friend and inviting others to know him too!

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Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 12th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for Sunday Mass today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of 2 Samuel.

The Book of Samuel is one of the most remarkable books in the Bible. It details the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David, providing details about the Israelite Kingdom ruled by David and his successors. Because it deals with real people and real events, the Book of Kings can be rightly described as a history book. But more than a history book it is also a brilliant work of literature, a study in human character and desire. But more than a history book or a work of literature it is also a magnificent theological statement, presenting the truth that God is not merely a distant, cosmological force, but an active and interested presence in all of human affairs- religious, yes, but also politics, economics, art, indeed all of culture.

(If you like “Game of Thrones” you will like the Old Testament Book of Kings).

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Samuel presents a dramatic confrontation between King David and the prophet Nathan. David had committed adultery and, to cover up his crime and because he desired to marry another man’s wife, a woman by the name of Bathsheba, he had the woman’s husband murdered in an elaborate scheme. The man he had betrayed and murdered had been a trusted advisor and loyal friend.

Through his actions, David had indicated that he had succumbed to the great temptation that afflicts all men and woman of worldly power- this temptation is to act as if you are accountable to no one for your actions and exempt from any standard of justice other than the standard you create for yourself. David the King’s actions demonstrated that he believed that he was accountable to only himself- not the law, not the prophets, not even God!

And Nathan sets David right. He confronts David, exposes his treachery and then places a kind of curse upon him and his house. The violence and treachery he had inflicted on the man he murdered would be visited upon his own family. In the prophet Nathan’s words “the sword shall never leave your house”.

Overcome with guilt, David repents of his crime and his sin. Nathan assures David that God is merciful, but that David, because of his treachery, will have to endure troubling consequences for his actions, and only through enduring these consequences can the wrong he has done be set right.

The lesson?

Worldly power is dangerous and easily gives way to destruction if we succumb to the same temptation that afflicted David the King. If we come to believe we are accountable to no one but ourselves, if morality becomes merely an exercise in self-interest, if we come to believe that we are above the law, and not even answerable to God, our arrogance will give rise to destruction- if not only for ourselves but also for others.

God is not mocked and his creation bends in accord with his justice. We can break his commandments, but we cannot evade the consequences of our defiance. We may, in the immediacy, receive some benefit from breaking God’s commandments, but in the long term, God’s justice prevails.

David the King’s treachery would haunt his family for generations. In fact, in the great drama of the Book of Kings, it is David’s treachery against an innocent man that is the beginning of the fall of his Kingdom.

Our second reading for today is an excerpt from a New Testament book, St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.

In this text, St. Paul testifies that he has been delivered from something that he call “the law” and his deliverance from this “law’ has made possible a new kind of life- a way of life that he describes as a relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is through this new way of life that St. Paul has been given the opportunity to become ever more and more like Christ, and through this opportunity his life has been given a meaning and purpose that he had not dared dream was possible. St. Paul declares that what he describes has changed his life for the better and that what he has received is God’s greatest gift.

The “law” that St. Paul has been delivered from is his former way of life. St. Paul had been a violent man, whose zeal for the righteousness of his causes had made him cruel. His cause had been the destruction of the Church. Yes, in his former life, St. Paul had been a persecutor of the Church. He had hated Christ and hated Christians, but Jesus Christ intervened in his life in an extraordinary way. The life of meaning and purpose that Jesus Christ gave St. Paul was a life of friendship with Christians. Christ had given St. Paul a new way of life called the Church.

It is the purpose of the Church to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite people to share friendship with Christ in the Church. Once people know Christ, and come to love him, and are then willing to serve him, then they receive the extraordinary gift of becoming like Christ. If fact, this is the point, the purpose, of the Church- to help people become ever more like Jesus Christ. Of course, this will not happen if we construe the purpose of the Church to be that of a clubhouse or institution, or if evade the invitation to know Christ as a friend, to love him and to serve him. Stop thinking of the Church as a thing that you manage and control. Start thinking about the Church as a way of life that gives meaning and purpose to your life.

If you are a Christian, your mission is to share with others what Christ has given to you. What Christ gives you is a unique way of life called the Church. If you are a Christian, your mission is to become like Christ yourself, so that you can help others to become like Christ too!

Today’s Gospel presents an extraordinary scene in which Christ demonstrates that what he desires most of all for those who have sinned is that they repent and find in him the gift of forgiveness and with that forgiveness, a second chance and a gift of peace.

The Gospel presents a contrast between a Pharisee and a woman who is described as a “sinner”, a designation that likely denotes that the woman was a prostitute.

Pharisees were members of a religious movement that emphasized keeping the commandments of God will meticulous and intense zeal. This particular Pharisee in the story, a man named Simon, evidently believes that his zeal for keeping God’s commandments makes him morally superior than others, especially those people, like the woman, who evidently do not keep God’s commandments.

It seems that Simon the Pharisee has divided the world into those who keep the commandments and those who don’t. In his estimation there are commandment keepers and commandment breakers and it is to his credit that he is a commandment keeper. As for those who are commandment breakers, Simon only has contempt. Note that Simon thinks that commandment breakers are so repellent to him that merely touching one is to be contaminated by their sin!

Christ sees through the pretense of Simon’s apparent virtue. Simon knows the commandments of God, he even observes them, but he doesn’t know the God who gave the commandments or the purpose for which he gave them.

God gave us the commandments as a means of rescuing us from misery, the misery we impose on ourselves when we act contrary to God’s will for our lives. Following the commandments leads to human flourishing and that is what God wants for us all- he wants us to flourish.

But what about those people who break the commandments? What does God want for them?

Simon thinks God wants commandment breakers shunned. Christ, who is God, reveals shunning sinners to be precisely what (he) God doesn’t want. God wants sinners to repent, to be forgiven, to be restored. If this happens, he wants sinners to experience mercy, not scorn.

God in Christ rejoices that the woman who is a sinner has repented. Simon, who is zealous in his concern for keeping God’s commandments, should too.

Today’s Gospel evokes the meaning of Pope Francis’ words when he referred to the Church as a “field hospital”. Sin wounds us and what those wounds need is healing. In a world in which there is not only such resistance, but also ignorance of God’s commandments, the walking wounded are all around us.

For some, the wounds of sin are so catastrophic, that they seem to be not only the walking wounded, but like unto the walking dead!

If the walking wounded come to the Church, come to field hospital, will they meet in us the scorn of Simon or the healing power of Christ?

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Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 5th, 2016)

For many Christians, the primary purpose of the Gospel is to impart a particular kind of ethic, that is, a way of being moral. The particular emphasis of this ethic or morality might be different, but what is held in common is that the Gospel provides a distinction between what is right and what is wrong- it is fundamentally about how to behave.

While it is true that Christ the Lord clarifies for us what God wants us to understand about right and wrong, it is not just the purpose of his revelation to tell us how to behave. As if only if we were polite and nice all our problems would be solved. We are rightly interested in ethics and morality and Christ has very clear teaching in regards to both. However, it was not for the sake of teaching us about ethics and morality that God in Christ accepted a human nature and revealed himself to us as man. Christ had a greater purpose.

The overarching purpose of Christ’s revelation is deal with a predicament that traps human beings in conditions that inevitably tend towards despair. Human beings are afflicted, and God in Christ comes to deal with our affliction.

The Gospel reveals that our afflictions originate, not just in poor ethical decisions or moral choices, (our poor ethical decisions and moral choices are symptomatic of a greater predicament). Our affliction resides in three great powers that are beyond our ability to circumvent or control. These three great powers are sin, the devil and death, and everything that afflicts us, everything that is wrong with us, has its origins in these three great powers.

Sin is, simply put, a failure to love what God loves, and in our failure to love, we make not only ourselves, but also make others miserable. In breaking a commandment or disobeying God, we are not just defying rules and regulations, but we are refusing to love, and this refusal is what makes sin so miserable for ourselves and for others.

Love is willing what is truly and really good for others, and it is our failure to do this that is inhibits our ability to flourish and often makes us cruel. The good we should will, we don’t and the evil that we shouldn’t will we do.

And worse, we don’t often know what love is because we don’t know what the really and truly good is. We think what is good are things, like wealth, pleasure, power and honors, but while these things can make our lives easier in this world, they can also make us miserable. There has to be a greater and more important good than wealth, pleasure, power and honors. God in Christ reveals what this good actually is.

Sin has power over us, and so does the devil.

The devil is fallen creature of great power, what the Church describes as an angel, that in his own resistance to God’s love, lashes out in anger and fear at anything or anyone that God loves- that means us. Because

the devil is so much smarter and stronger than us, and because, often times his deceptions seem so charming to us, we need a power stronger than him to wrest us free from his influence. The devil is not a fictional character, but a mysterious kind of creature that makes his presence known to us through insinuation and accusation. The devil is powerful, but God in Christ is even more powerful.

Then there is the power of death. We have a tendency to fear death perhaps more than anything else, and if we are not afraid of it, we are in denial of it’s reality. Our fear and denial of death creates the conditions for a lot of misery, as when we act out of our fear or denial we more often than not make the kinds of decisions that hurt others. Further, death seems to us to be the end of everything that we consider to be good and worthwhile and if death is really and truly the end of everything, then what meaning or real purpose does our existence have? Without meaning and purpose our lives drift towards despair.

The Gospel testifies to Christ’s power over sin, the devil and death. All the testimony of the Gospel stories that you read or hear proclaimed at Mass are about how Christ has or will overcome the three great powers that are the source of our afflictions.

What Christ has to say about ethics or morality is always within the context of his greater purpose, which is to deal with the three powers that are making us miserable- sin, death and the devil.

Sin, death and the devil make people upset. We don’t like to talk about them, let alone think about them, and so many preachers find a way around talking about them at all. One way to do that is over emphasize ethics and morality as if that’s all the Gospel is about. Preaching becomes a lecture about how we are to behave.

Today’s Gospel, an excerpt from the testimony of the evangelist Luke, is indicating to us that the power of God in Christ is more powerful than death. Christ restores life to a dead man. Our first scripture for today, an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Kings, gestures towards or foreshadows what Christ accomplishes in the Gospel, and what Christ accomplishes indicates, who he is and what he is all about is not, in the words of St. Paul in our second reading, merely of “human origin”.

Christ is God, and he reveals himself in power. This power, unlike worldly power is not wielded as we would wield power, for the sake of our own selfish purposes. Instead, Christ reveals that his power is for us, to rescue us, to save us, and to save us from that which afflicts us- the power of sin, the devil and death.

God in Christ reveals that he is more powerful than death and it is our faith that as he enters into death itself on the cross, he transforms it forever. What seems to us to be an end, is actually a new kind of beginning. What seems to us to be an end, is actually a route of access to God. Christ’s power has made this possible- a power, his power, that is greater than death.

Sin- a failure to love. The Devil- a dark power that hates everything God loves. Death- the fear and denial of which robs our lives of meaning and purpose.

These powers remain very real in all of our lives, as do the afflictions that they create.

Yes, sin, the devil and death are very real and very powerful. But not more powerful than Christ!

And Christ has the power to defeat them.

This revelation is what the Gospel is about.

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The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (May 22nd, 2016)

Today the Church celebrates the revelation of God as the Holy Trinity.

We Christians do not believe that God is a distant, cosmic force, an idea in our minds or a feeling in our hearts. We also do not believe that our opinions determine who or what God is. Instead God reveals himself to us in an extraordinary way and it is through this revelation that we come to know who God is and what God asks of us.

This revelation is Jesus Christ.

Sure, it is true that we can come to know of God’s existence through the our power to reason, but knowing of God’s existence or knowing something about God, is not the same thing as God’s revelation in Christ. Whatever it is we can know of God or do know about God, it is Jesus Christ, we Christians believe, that clarifies the matter and brings what we know about God to its proper fulfillment.

Jesus Christ is the revelation of God.

This means that we Christians do not accept that Christ is merely a great man of history or a philosopher of religion or a political activist. We also do not believe that the primary purpose for which Christ revealed himself was so that he could teach us about ethics or how to behave.

Christ is God or he couldn’t be the revelation of God. What the Lord Jesus presents to us is not a theory about God, but God himself, and it is his revelation that also reveals that the one, true God is the Holy Trinity.

Look at it this way, when Christ speaks about God he indicates that the one God is a relationship. Remember, Christ speaks of God as his Father with whom he relates to as the Son and this Father and Son relate to one another, and their relationship is called the Holy Spirit.   This is whom Christ reveals the one, true God to be- a relationship that Christ describes as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In the course of human history, people have spoken about God in many ways and called God many things, but when God reveals himself in

Christ, he tells us how to best speak about him and what to call him, and what Christ tells us is that one God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This one God who reveals himself in Christ to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit is what we Christians call the Holy Trinity.

The Holy Trinity is not the invention of theologians. It is not a theory about God or an idea about God. The Holy Trinity is who and what Christ reveals God to be. And if you are a Christian, then you accept the revelation of God in Christ as being true.

Thus we Christians privilege the language with which Christ speaks about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We do not seek to change it to suit our whims or ideologies or replace Christ’s language about God with something we think is better. We accept it, because God in Christ spoke to us about his identity in this unique manner. God in Christ could have spoken to us and taught us about God in a different way, but he didn’t. And because he didn’t the Church testifies to how Christ spoke and about God.

In other words, if we are Christians, we have to believe that God is who Christ reveals God to be- that he is the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

God in Christ reveals who God is, but he doesn’t explain to us how God is the Holy Trinity. In this regard, saints and scholars and mystics have proposed ideas, and some of these insights are truly profound, indeed helpful, but none constitute an explanation as to how God is the Holy Trinity. We have to believe as Christians that the one, true God is the Holy Trinity, but in terms of how God is the Trinity, Christ has left this veiled in mystery.

The purpose of this mystery is perhaps to indicate to us that God is not a problem for humanity to solve, but a relationship into which we are invited. Christ reveals that God can be known personally, and that he desires to be in a relationship with us. This relationship is a called a covenant. Christ indicates that the best way to understand the relationship or covenant that God offers to us in Christ is friendship.

This means that if we approach God as a problem to be solved, then he will remain mostly elusive. We might come to know that he exists, but we will not know him as he wants to be known- as a person with whom we enter into a relationship. The saints, who come to know God better than anyone else, never approach God as a problem to be solved, but instead they bask in God’s mystery, loving God for who he reveals himself to be in Christ, rather than trying to figure God out or make him into a math problem or a science experiment.

A merely human relationship would go nowhere if we treated the other person as a problem to be solved or as a science experiment. It’s no different with our relationship with God.

Christ reveals that our relationship with God can be like his relationship with his Heavenly Father. This means that God wants to relate to us in the same manner that Christ relates to his Father. In other words, God doesn’t just want us to be his friends, he wants us to be his children, his very own sons and daughters. God in Christ reveals he wants to be more than just our friends, we wants to invite us to become members of his own family.

The New Testament testifies, and Christians believe that Christ’s revelation of God as the Holy Trinity means that God is love. We do not simply believe that God can do loving things, but that love is what God is essentially is. You can’t have love without a relationship, and God is a relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God could not be love unless he is a relationship and that’s what the Holy Trinity reveals God to be.

It is because of the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that Christians testify that God is love. We do not testify that God is love because it is a pleasant idea or a comforting feeling. We testify that God is love because Christ reveals God to be the relationship called the Holy Trinity.

We Christians believe God is love because God is the Holy Trinity.

So what kind of love is God?

This question is answered in what Christ reveals love to be. Christ reveals that love is willing what is the greatest and most important good for another person. That is what love is- willing the good for another.

This is a real challenge to the culturally induced understanding of love that dominates us. Our culturally induced understanding of love stresses affirmation and fulfillment of personal desire or need. Accept me as I am and that is love. Give me what I want and that is love. We might think that this culturally induced conception of love is somehow new or liberating, but what it actually is represents an idol and an illusion. We don’t know what love is because we don’t know who God is.

Christ reveals God and he reveals a very different kind love to us- and he identifies his love as true love, authentic love, radical and revolutionary love. Love is willing the good for another person- not affirming them as they are, or giving them what they want, but willing for someone what is good and giving them what they really and truly need. This love always demands a sacrifice, and it is because of this sacrifice, that the love Christ reveals always has the potential to save and to redeem.

And for us, embedded in this culture, at this particular moment in time, it is this lesson about true love, authentic love, real love, that must be the most important lesson. Have we forgotten how to love because we have forgotten what love is (or maybe we never knew…)? And have we forgotten how to love, because we have forgotten what Christ reveals about God (or dismissed his revelation as unimportant)? How many of our own miseries are a result of this forgetfulness? We don’t know how to love because we don’t know who God is, or worse, we think we know who God is, but what we think God is is not who Christ reveals God to be.

And in the midst of our miseries, let us remember the mercy that is the revelation of true love- God in Christ, the relationship that reveals the one, true God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit- One God, the Holy Trinity.

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Pentecost Sunday (May 15th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today describes the disciples of the Lord Jesus gathered for the celebration of Pentecost. On this occasion the Holy Spirit is revealed in an extraordinary way, and in the wake of the Holy Spirit’s revelation, the disciples of the Lord Jesus are transformed, changed forever. Their transformation is manifested in signs and wonders.

What does this all mean?

Pentecost is a festival of the Israelite religion that occurs 50 days after Passover. Passover commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from the enslavement to the false gods of the Egyptians. The one, true God defeated these false gods and freed from the tyranny of these false gods, the Israelites could fulfill their God-given mission. That’s Passover.

Pentecost commemorates the gift of the Law of Moses, or the Covenant of Moses, and as this festival coincided with a time of the wheat harvest, the pageantry of this festival incorporated thanksgiving to God for the fruits of the harvest. When the temple of Jerusalem was still standing, the high priest would present two loaves of bread to the Lord with great solemnity.

These details help us to understand why the early disciples were gathered, but also indicates how they understood their experience. The “Passover” of the Lord Jesus had occurred 50 days earlier, by this I mean his passage into suffering and death on the cross, and along with this, his defeat of sin, death and devil, a victory that was revealed in his Resurrection.

Through his Passover, Christ had revealed his Law, his Covenant, a covenant that is revealed to the world when his disciples gather in worship and see and receive the offering of the Eucharistic Mystery called the Blessed Sacrament. This is what happens during the Church’s worship called the Mass.

Thus, what this text from the Book of Acts is doing is evoking and connecting the Passover and Pentecost of the Old Testament with the Passover and Pentecost of the New Testament. The rituals that commemorated the gift of Law, rituals that culminated in the offering of bread to the Lord suggested or foreshadowed the worship the Lord that happens in the Mass, when we receive the Law of Christ in the revelation of the Eucharist.

So you see, Pentecost is not simply an event from long ago, but it is a reality that we participate in ourselves by participating in the Mass.

Through the Mass, the Holy Spirit desires to unleash for us signs and wonders, gifts for our mission, gifts that imbue the Church with creativity, enthusiasm and life. The marvelous signs and wonders described in the Book of Acts are meant to be gifts given to us, gifts that are imparted through the Mass.

This is what the Church’s worship in the Mass is meant to accomplish, to unleash in us heavenly gifts that have the power to change us and to change the world.   This can happen if we are willing to cooperate with the Lord, and accept the Eucharist he gives to us, a Eucharist that is what it is by the Holy Spirit, as not just an experience of individualistic spiritualized affirmation, but a real communion with the divine person of the Lord Jesus.

Every Mass is meant to be another Pentecost.

If Pentecost can be understood as the power God unleashes in our experience of the worship of the Mass and through our adoration and reception of the Eucharistic Mystery of the Blessed Sacrament, then what is this Holy Spirit, this Spirit that unleashes heavenly gifts and imbues disciples with vigorous strength for mission.

The Holy Spirit is the love that is shared between God the Father and God the Son. This is perhaps the most helpful way to think about what the Holy Spirit “is”. The Holy Spirit is the love shared between God the Father and God the Son.

Therefore, to receive the Holy Spirit, means that you receive the same love that is shared between God the Father and God the Son. The Holy Spirit gives you the relationship Christ has with his Heavenly Father. This is why those who have received the Holy Spirit often do such marvelous things, because those that have received the love that Christ shares with his Heavenly Father and share the relationship that Christ has with his Heavenly Father, become more and more like Christ.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are those qualities that make us like Christ.

The power of the Holy Spirit is the power to make us like Christ.

Becoming more and more like Christ is what it means to be holy.

Holiness is not simply an attitude that favors the spiritual or means you are interested in religion. Holiness is being like, becoming like Christ.

This is what the Church is about- helping us to become holy, which means, helping us to become more and more like Christ. The Church transforms the world, not through institutional projects, political causes or faith-based curriculums, but by inviting people to know Christ and helping people to become like Christ. The Church’s strategy for changing the world is help more and more people become holy, become like Christ.

Becoming like Christ becomes possible for us because we participate in the Sacraments. The Sacraments are possible for us because of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit draws us to Christ in the Sacraments and through the Sacraments offers us the possibility, the opportunity of becoming like Christ.

Becoming like Christ is what it means to be holy- and when this happens, the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit are not only given to us, they are lavished on the whole world.

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