Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 18th, 2018)

The Church’s first scripture is from the Old Testament Book of Daniel, one of the strangest texts in all of the Bible. The Book of Daniel is a mixture of prophecy, folktales and action adventure stories, all detailing the sojourn of an Israelite named Daniel, an exile, living in the aftermath of the fall of the kingdom of David and the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC.

Daniel manages, despite tremendous obstacles, to ascend to great importance in the court of the Babylonian monarch. Along with his cultural and political savvy, Daniel is gifted with fantastic visions which foreshadow a time when the God of the Israelites will act with great power to overthrow the tyranny of the Israelite’s enemies and restore them to their ancestral lands, as well return them to the glory they knew during the time of their greatest kings, David and Solomon.

Today we glimpse one of the prophet Daniel’s visions- he foresees a day when the archangel Michael will be sent into this world to fight on behalf of the beleaguered Israelites, and the revelation of Michael will precipitate the end of the world as we know it. Living and dead will be judged, and the wicked, which Daniel understands to be those who persecuted the Israelites, will be punished. It will be a time of great tribulation, but in the end, God’s purposes will be fulfilled and not only the Israelites, but all creation will be restored.

What are we to make of this?

The Bible presents over and over again that human beings are not the only movers and shapers of history. In fact, it is sin, hubris to be exact, that makes us think that we are solely in charge of this world and masters of God’s creation.

The prophets continually reminded the Israelites that humanity were actors in history, but God is in charge. The prophets insisted that God was acting in our lives when things were going right, but also when things went terribly wrong.

Our corruption, our willful desire for power, for wealth, for pleasure, for honors, necessitated time and time again for God to act in history, to set things right, and when that happened, our lives are often shattered and the world shaken to its foundation.

In Daniel’s vision, God sends the greatest of the heavenly powers to save his people, but this salvation is wrought with great peril and tribulation. It does not happen without a reckoning with our sins and it precipitates a great struggle with dark powers. God triumphs in the end, but the cost of victory will be great.

The ancient sages and saints of the Church interpreted Daniel’s vision is relation to the revelation of Christ, with Michael understood as a stand in for Christ. Christ comes into the world at a time of great desperation, and while his revelation brings hope, but it also brings judgement, a reckoning with our sins, and a resistance to his offer of grace. With his coming, lives are changed, and the world can never be the same.

Christ does not come to us as just a divine affirmation of our status quo, or to affirm us as we are, or to tell us what we want to hear. Christ is as upsetting as he is consoling. Discipleship exacts a cost and there is no love without sacrifice. He says to everyone that there is no way forward without repentance and upends all our expectations and plans. He insists that before there can be a new beginning for us, there is much in our lives that will have to end.

For the past few weeks the second reading for Sunday Mass has been an excerpt from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews. The Letter to the Hebrews is about the relationship of the worship of the Israelites with the worship of the Church- the worship we experience in the Mass.

The meaning of today’s excerpt from the Letter to the Hebrews is to make the point that the divine gift that is offered to us in the Mass is given to us by Christ. It is not something that we do. The gift of the Mass is not created by our emotions or our procedures. The gift of the Mass is not our performance, as if the Mass is a theatrical experience or musical concert. The gift of the Mass is not the opportunity to volunteer. The gift of the Mass is not the chance to celebrate our ethnicity or diversity. The gift of the Mass is not the preaching of the homily or the feeling of community.

The gift of the Mass is the sacrifice that Christ offers through his Incarnation, a gift that reaches its fullest expression on the cross- and this gift is Christ himself, his divine life, which is given to us through our participation in the Blessed Sacrament. Holy Communion is his gift and this is not something we make for ourselves. Holy Communion is what Christ does for us.

And that is why the Mass offers us a reality we can’t receive elsewhere. That’s why the Mass is the way God wants his Church to worship. And this is why the Mass is always necessary and always important.

Christ’s words in his Gospel are ominous indeed! He speaks of tribulation, of catastrophe, of apocalypse, of the end.

We can understand his words as foreshadowing the end of all things, of the world being brought to its consummation and fulfillment and creation reaching its limit. One day this world and all that we know and love about it will not exist. It will pass away and we will too. This is enough to make us tremble.

But Christ is speaking in his Gospel, not just regarding the destruction of the planet, or the way towards which all finite things tend, but of his cross, and how through his cross, a great tribulation will seize hold of creation and the world as humanity had known it thus far would be brought to a terrifying end.

We might look upon representations of Christ’s death and see a pious symbol, but what happens on the cross is earth shattering and world ending. God’s offer of salvation in Christ, his offer of friendship is met with mockery, cruelty, torture and death. All this is imposed on God and all this God accepts so as to show forth his willingness to love and forgive us despite our refusals, despite unwillingness to love him.

In justice, God’s response to us should have been our destruction, but that is not what we have been given. Thus, the cross shows us forever the darkness within ourselves, and this darkness would be unbearable if not for the divine light that is revealed- a light of grace filled forgiveness that our darkness cannot overcome.

In the cross, we are judged, and what we deserve from that judgement is wrath, but what God in Christ imparts, inexplicably, is mercy. This is his grace, this is his gift. This is his revelation.

Christ, through the tribulation of his cross, takes what should have been our end, and makes of that end, a new beginning.

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Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 11th, 2018)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from Old Testament Book of Kings. The Book of Kings details the rise, decline and fall of the Israelite monarchy and the House of David. It is not just ancient history, an essential text for our understanding of not only the person and work of the Lord Jesus, but also the Church.

Remember, we Christians don’t read the Old Testament for a history lesson or because we appreciate ancient literature, but because the Old Testament reveals Christ to us and further, shows us truths about the Church. Christ and the Church are not made out of our opinions or feelings, but they reveal themselves to us through the Scriptures. This is why the Church treasures and reverences the Bible- because through the Bible we come to know Christ and the Church and knowing who Christ is and knowing what the Church is, then we know as Christians what we believe, who we are and what God in Christ wants us to do.

Today’s particular scripture from the Book of Kings provides us with a glimpse of one of the most fascinating of all the Old Testament prophets- the prophet Elijah. Elijah did more than just speak God’s word of truth and foresee how God would act in the future, but he was also a wonderworker of extraordinary power. He wielded the power of God not just as a word, but in mighty deeds and not since the days of Moses had the Israelites seen such marvels as they did in the days of Elijah.

In the scripture we heard today, Elijah exercises his power in a manner that is life-giving, indeed affectionate, saving the lives of a woman and her son from starvation. The ancient meaning of this texts would likely have been received as being that kindness to the Lord’s prophets, even if it means great sacrifice, brings with it a reward.

For us, the meaning of this text is in its foreshadowing of the Eucharistic mystery, in which Christ, the new Elijah, imbues meager and ordinary food with his divine power and presence. This transformation, of bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood, sustains us in the midst of a world where so many are spiritually starving; so many of us in this secularized landscape of our age are bereft of the life and presence of God! How intense this famine is! How sad that so many impose spiritual starvation upon themselves by rejecting the Church and her sacramental sources of life! How tragic that so many have been, through our own actions, been driven away!

Christ comes to us all in our spiritual poverty like Elijah came to the widow of Zaraphath and her son, and our willingness to accept him into our lives brings with it a nourishing source of renewed life- the Blessed Sacrament.

The Church has chosen as our second reading excerpts from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews. The Letter to the Hebrews is a curious text- not so much a letter as it is a treatise or an essay. It is about theology and liturgy- which means it speaks of God and of the worship of God and it intends to show us the correlation or connection between the temple worship of the Old Testament and the temple worship of the New Testament. This temple worship of the New Testament is what we experience in the Mass.

I know that people have many ideas about the Mass, usually ideas about how they think it should be improved, but whatever ideas or opinions we have about the Mass are not as important as how the meaning and purpose of the Mass are described in the Letter to the Hebrews. Ideas can be well formulated and opinions strongly held, but neither are revelation, and what the Letter to the Hebrews testifies is to revelation- what God in Christ intends for our worship in the Mass to be.

The Letter to the Hebrews describes the Mass as a participation on earth of the worship of God by the angels and saints in heaven. The movements, signs, symbols, gestures of the Mass that we experience on earth are all directing our attention to what the worship of God that is happening in heaven. This is why the Mass is not merely a theatrical or musical performance and it is not meant to be simply the community expressing itself. The Mass is about heaven come to earth and it expresses heavenly things in earthly forms.

The Letter to the Hebrews describes that Mass as being where we see in a privileged earthly form, Christ, as our high priest, entering the sanctuary of heaven, and offering as his sacrifice, his own divine life. This sacrifice is made a gift for us and is given to us in the form of the Blessed Sacrament.

This truth about the Mass is where many of stumble. We limit our understanding of the Mass to procedures and rules or the policies of a liturgy committee or limit our experience of the Mass to our emotions, insisting that it always be emotionally effective and pleasing. Mass is not a gift, an privileged opportunity, but an obligation and as an obligation we grasp at the minimal requirements to satisfy the obligation.

All this distorts our spiritual vision of what the Mass is and what God is doing through it. The Mass is deep mysticism, the deepest possible mysticism in this world. Why? Because in it, through it, with it, we are given real communion with the life and presence of God. God in Christ gives us, in this world, communion with his life and in turn we can give our lives to him. This is what real mysticism is. Mysticism is not ruminating about spiritual ideas or levitating or clairvoyance or manifesting spiritualized super powers. Mysticism is communion with God, sharing in his life, in his presence, and this is gift God gives to us in the Mass and God does this in a way that cannot be received in any other way.

The Letter to the Hebrews is making this point. God is giving us a unique gift in the Mass that we cannot receive anywhere else and for which there is no replacement. The gift is Christ’s own life to which no other gift, heavenly or earthly can ever compare.

Finally, in his Gospel, the Lord Jesus presents two forms of religiosity, of being religious. The first is a form of religion that has become distorted. It is manifested in those for whom religion is used as a means of self-aggrandizement, as a source of wealth and honors. Genuine faith is not necessary for this religion, nor are hope or charity. Instead what are necessary are pride and greed and a will to deceive. There is no sacrifice in this false religion, only the appearance of such, and only then for the purpose of ulterior motives and schemes. This is represented by Christ in the religiosity of the scribes.

The other form of religiosity has been emptied of all pretense and generates creativity and life from the willingness to give all that it can give so that God’s purposes can be accomplished. Such a religion does not serve the self, but God and seeks to love not what the ego desires, but what God loves, even if the cost, the sacrifice is great. This form of religion is represented by the poor widow in the temple. This is true religion in its radiant form.

If we are honest we would admit that these two forms of religion are at work in all of us. We should not point fingers at those we deem religiously inferior as we only implicate ourselves and express our own hypocrisy. Each day we face decisions in regards to the forms of true and distorted religion. The problem here is not religion, but ourselves.

The Church asks something of us and we calculate what it would cost. Christ calls us to mission and we wonder how it can be leveraged to our benefit. But, there are also radiant moments when, like the poor widow in the temple, the ego breaks, and we find ourselves willing to make a sacrifice, we find ourselves capable of loving what God loves, even if it means the cost is high and the risk is great.

Distorted forms of religion put ourselves at the center. True religion is centered on God in Christ.

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Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 4th, 2018)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy.  Deuteronomy continues the story of Moses and the Israelites and its purpose is to present Israelite law- those commandments and customs that gave the Israelites their unique identity as God’s chosen people and their mission to be witnesses to the one, true God.  Deuteronomy literally means “second law” and it is meant to signify that this book is another telling of how Moses gave God’s law to the Israelites.

This particular scripture identifies that practice of law with the fulfillment of God’s promises.  In other words, it would not be enough for the Israelites simply to claim their identity as God’s people, like a badge of honor or an ethnic identity, but they would have to accomplish what God asked them to do. The law of Moses detailed what God wanted the Israelites to do.

The primary commandment of the Law of Moses is that the Israelites were to have only one God.  Rivals to the one, true God were to be rejected, be these the gods and goddesses of the pagans or the desires and things that humans elevate into gods- like wealth, pleasure, power and honors.  Further, the Israelites were expected not just to believe in God, that is, to give assent to his existence, or even his claim to authority over them, but they were invited to love God- that is, to enter into a personal relationship with him, to relate to him as one relates to a father, as one who cares and loves.

Love for us is mired in the emotional and romantic notions, or construed to mean that which ratifies my own desires and needs. These understandings of love are more about love of self rather than love of the other and usually recoil at personal sacrifice.  But the love that is expressive of the biblical vision is always associated with sacrifice, of giving one’s life over to one’s beloved, of making oneself a gift.  God does this in his covenant (relationship) with the Israelites and he does this for us in the covenant (relationship) wit Christ.

The greater the love, the greater the sacrifice. There is no true love in this world without sacrifice, and when Moses insists that the Israelites love the Lord they would have known that he was asking them to make a sacrifice.  In Christ, God shows the sacrifice he is willing to make for us and his sacrifice looks like his cross.

Today’s second scripture is an excerpt from the Letter to the Hebrews.  The letter to the Hebrews is a New Testament text and it is a real curiosity.  It is not so much a letter as it is a treatise and its purpose is theological and liturgical- which means it is telling us a great deal about God and also about our worship of him.

This particular passage from Hebrews is about the priesthood of the Lord Jesus, which we are told is different than other forms of worldly priesthood because it is not a human creation of society or culture.  The priesthood of the Lord Jesus originates in God because the Lord Jesus is God.

The Letter to the Hebrews describes the Lord Jesus as a priest, in fact, as the great high priest, and also describes the Church’s worship as an earthly display of the worship of heaven.  The form of the Church’s worship imitates the form of the worship of heaven. What we see and experience in the Church’s worship on earth anticipates and foreshadows what we hope to one day see and experience in heaven.

This means that the worship called the Mass is our participation in the worship of heaven and all the movements and prayers; gestures and words are meant to signify this reality.  The worship of the Church is not merely an act of self-expression, it is, more importantly an expression of Christ. Christ is the one that makes the Church’s worship what God intends.  It’s his gift, a gift we receive, not something we make up for ourselves.  Whatever “rules” or expectations the Church has for our worship, are meant to keep the heavenly form of worship clearly in our sights and unobstructed by our worldliness.

The great indicator of this worldliness is when our worship becomes merely an act of communal or individual self-expression, or merely an expression of society and culture, or the end result of the policies of a regulating committee.

If our worship becomes merely a pageant for culture or theatrical concert or expression of the political advocacy, then all we have is an elevation of our own worldliness to god like status. The end result all this is that we end up worshipping ourselves, not God in Christ.

The worship of the Church is deep mysticism, the mysticism of earth and heaven coming together in Christ.  God in Christ offers himself to us as his sacrifice of love and we in turn offer ourselves to him as a sacrifice of our love. This is what is meant by Holy Communion. This is what the priesthood of Christ is about and what the priesthood of the Church, both ministerial and baptismal is meant to be.

When we become far too intent on controlling the Church’s worship- adjusting it, accommodating it, manipulating it, regulating it, policing it, rather than receiving it as a gift from Christ and participation in Christ, that mysticism evanesces, it disappears, as does the true meaning and purpose of the Church’s worship.  And all we are left with after that is a procedural manual, which is sad, because God in Christ has given us so much more than that.

Finally, Christ in his Gospel is questioned, interrogated, by an expert in the Law of Moses.  He is asked about the which is the greatest commandment.  Christ’s answer is Moses’ answer, indeed the answer of all the great prophets and sages of the Israelites- love of God and love of neighbor.

Love of God and of neighbor are always complimentary realities because to love God, really and truly, is to love what God loves- and God loves the people he has created.  If we do not love what God loves, how can we honestly testify that we love God?

Now the people God loves often do not make it easy to love them.  The great story of God’s love revealed in the Scriptures is that his love for his people is for the most part unrequited- it is offered and refused.  And yet, mysteriously, our resistance and refusal of God’s overtures strengthens his resolve to love us all the more.  It is this desire to love even in the face of refusal, even in the face of defiance, that is what Christ means when he invites us to love our neighbor.

Loving our neighbor, for the Christian, is much more than being friendly, polite or civic minded, it is about loving other people even when our love is rejected or never reciprocated.  It is about much more than just loving those who are willing to love us.  It is about being willing to love those who do not love us.

This is how we love others in imitation of the manner that God loves us.

Such a love as this will always demand sacrifices, but as we know, from the revelation of God, there is no true love possible in this world without sacrifice.

 

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Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 23rd, 2018)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom. The Book of Wisdom is from a section of the Old Testament that is called “wisdom literature” and the purpose of these texts is to exhort and to persuade. Wisdom is presented as a divine gift that perfects merely human knowing- it is a grace through which one comes to understand what God intends and what God wants, and through this understanding one comes to deep and profound insights regarding the meaning and purpose of our existence.

This particular section from the Book of Wisdom presents both an insight about the human condition and a prophecy. The insight about the human condition is that humanity tends, because of sin, to reject and refuse what is good, preferring to exercise our willfulness and attain our desires even when doing so harms ourselves and others. This tendency subverts all attempts to “save” ourselves. Sin is a refusal of God’s will and purposes for our lives, and the lesson in this morning’s scripture from the Book of Wisdom is that humanity has a tendency to stumble when it comes to not only knowing God’s will and purposes, but also doing what God intends- in fact, more often than not, defiantly refuse what God wants, protesting that we know better.

The other lesson is a prophecy, a foreshadowing of what will happen to God when he reveals himself in Christ. Rather than acceptance and love, God in Christ will encounter in us opposition and refusal, and not only those, but also violence and scorn.

This is a sad fact that haunts the revelation of the Gospel and casts shadows into its light. As the Gospel of John attests “he (meaning God) came to his own and they knew him not”- meaning that his revelation was met with our refusal.

The lesson in this for us is that this refusal continues even in us for even in the most devout there is a dark part of our souls that says no to Christ, that meets his overtures, his will, with rejection, even scorn. We may keep that part our ourselves under wraps, hiding it behind a screen of piety or curtain of virtue, but the “no”, the refusal is there.

Our second scripture from the Letter of James supports and enhances the insight from the Book of Wisdom regarding the human condition. Divine Wisdom indicates a purpose for us that is contrary to the self-striving of our egos and the rapacious manner we so often pursue our desires. The assessment of the Letter of James is harsh, unyielding, and it is echoed in the great insight of the Apostle Paul that the good we should do we don’t and the evil that we should refuse, we seek to accomplish.

The light the scriptures cast into the darkness of the human condition provoke in us the question of who or what can deliver us from the wicked tendencies within ourselves?

Our culture is not unique in that it proposes as the answer to this question strategies for self-improvement, techniques for overcoming the darkness within ourselves through acts of our own will. And this is not without merit, we can still choose what is good and align our decisions with what God wills, but the insight of scriptures is that this will inevitably fall short. We need more than a self-improvement program, we need a person, a divine person, who will, through his relationship with us, set us right.

This divine person is Jesus Christ, who reveals himself as being not just a teacher or philosopher, but a Lord and Savior. He is Lord because he is God and he is Savior because he alone can reach into the darkness and depth of our condition and impart light and healing from the inside.

I am speaking now of the great revelation, the great mystery of who the Lord Jesus really and truly is and why he matters. The Lord Jesus is God, the one, true God, who accepts for himself a human nature and lives a real, human life. He does this to contend with our refusals personally and meet us in our darkest moments face to face. He even goes into the furthest limits of our refusals, a revelation that happens through his passion and death, in which we see the unnerving truth of just what humanity is capable of, that we have in ourselves the capacity for such cruelty and violence and that even those seemingly closest to God can falter and fail in the most egregious ways!

But not only do we see in the cross of Jesus a dark image of ourselves, the confirmation of the insight about the human condition we heard today from the Book of Wisdom, but we also see the fulfillment of prophecy, a foreshadowing that comes to fulfillment- God in Christ enters into the darkness of our refusals and bears into that refusal his divine light. This is his mission. This is his purpose.

And today’s Gospel indicates that it is a mission and purpose that even Christ’s disciples, even Christians, find difficult to accept or understand.

Christ testifies in his Gospel what he has come into this world to accomplish and it is absolutely befuddles his disciples. What they expect is that he will set a world gone wrong right by violence and a deal with humanity’s refusal of God by force. But Christ proclaims the mystery of his suffering and his death as the means by which he will conquer the world and the cross as the means by which he will confront humanity’s refusal.

It’s contrary to expectations and an utterly counter intuitive strategy. It’s the wisdom of God versus the wisdom of the world.

And Christ’s followers don’t like it, and honestly, neither do many of his followers today. The revelation of God in Christ overturns all our expectations regarding what God should do and how he should do it.

The lesson?

Truly being a disciple of the Lord Jesus means accepting as the mission of our lives not something that we make up for ourselves but a way of life that is God-given, it means a willing surrender to a will and purpose that is not our own. This is inherently off putting, and even painful, because it means admitting that our lives are not simply about ourselves, our own plotting and planning, and that we will find fulfillment not in the attainment of our own desires, but in God’s desire for us.

The wisdom of God in Christ, is an act of trust that God knows better than ourselves what is good for us, and this contradicts the wisdom of the world, which insists that we know better than God.

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Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 16th, 2018)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from one of the lengthiest and beautifully composed books of the Old Testament- the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

In this text the prophet Isaiah sets his prophetic gaze upon years and years of Israelite history, reckoning with how God acted in extraordinary events and seemingly ordinary circumstances to reveal himself and to achieve his purposes.

History is not, in terms of a biblical vision, simply a result of human choices or the actions of great men and women, but a dramatic stage on which the will and purposes of God are revealed. It is this vision that the prophets of the Bible give testimony, warning us that if we forget God, if we elevate our plotting and planning over the will and purposes of God, we will unleash in our lives and in our world great darkness.

As the prophet Isaiah turns his prophetic gaze to Israelite history he catches a glimpse of a mysterious figure, a suffering servant of the Lord, a man who will reconcile God and humanity not through force of will, but through a willingness to suffer. The sufferings this servant of the Lord will bear will be unjustly inflicted upon him and in the eyes of the world he will seem to be, not only guilty, but a failure. But through the endurance of this suffering, the servant of the Lord will inexplicably demonstrate the power of God and bring God and his people into communion with one another.

Who is this suffering servant? Isaiah could not fully know or understand. Prophets see things in often blurred images of foreshadowing, not in the light of fulfillment. The Israelites would know the identity of Isaiah’s suffering servant when God chose to reveal him.

And this suffering servant is Christ the Lord.

Many modern people wince at the image, indeed the very thought of Christ as suffering servant. But that is who he reveals himself to be. Our age would reduce Christ to one of many great men of history, a moral exemplar or teacher of spiritual generalities. None of these things tell us plainly who Christ really and truly is. They simply tell us what we want to hear about Christ, delivering us from the demand the reality of his revelation places upon us.

Christ the Lord is the one who came to us so as to suffer and to die. It is in this way that true communion of God and humanity is accomplished for it is only when God himself enters into these raw facts of human existence, only when God himself goes into the very things that seem to separate us from his life and presence, can we truly say and believe that God is with us, and with us, not just in some things, but in all things.

This is precisely what Isaiah’s vision of the suffering servant is about and this is how that vision becomes a reality in Christ the Lord.

God in Christ comes into this world, not just to deliver to us a new code of conduct or to become an influential shaper of politics and culture, but to suffer and to die, to enter himself into the apparent injustice that our sins impose upon ourselves and others, to know himself even the feeling of abandonment that so often afflicts the human condition. This is what God in Christ does for us so as to demonstrate his life and presence, his communion with us, is not just in some things, but in all things. Like history, our lives are not bereft of the purposes of God and these purposes are achieved not by a God who remains at a distance from the raw facts of life, but who enters into these circumstances himself.

The Church’s second scripture for today is an excerpt from the New Testament Letter of James.

In this text, James offers to us an important clarification in regards to the relationship between our profession of faith and our way of life- the two are always correlative and mutually implicative. Christian Faith is not merely an assent to propositions but it is also a way of life. Christian faith is not merely a matter of doing things, but of believing things that serve as an impetus for one’s actions.

Christians throughout the Church’s long history have had to be reminded of the relationship between what we believe and what we practice, the relationship between what profess in faith and our unique way of life because, it seems, we tend to fracture and break the Church by preferring one to the other, and, in doing so, we sever the relationship between the two.

When Christian faith is reduced to propositions, no matter how true these propositions are, the Church quickly degenerates into a debating club. When Christian faith is reduced to doing things, however noble our actions might be, the Church degenerates into one of many political movements, and usually one that is in service of worldly aspirations and ideologies.

In terms of the profession and faith and our unique way of life we cannot choose one or the other. When we do, we are not just exhibiting a personal preference, we are intentionally or not, fracturing the Church.

Christ’s Gospel for today evokes our first scripture from Isaiah. The apostle Peter testifies that the Lord Jesus is the Christ, that is, the revelation of God and the fulfillment of Israelite hope that God would dwell with his people and rescue them from the dark powers that afflict them.

But Peter balks at Christ’s insistence that God will reveal himself as a suffering servant, that God’s revelation will happen through suffering and through death.

Christ admonishes Peter, going so far to tell him that to refuse him his mission, to negate his passage into suffering and death, is truly diabolical, satanic- it’s precisely what the devil wants.

The lesson here is not just for Peter but for us. There is a great temptation in modern culture to believe that religion is something that we just make up for ourselves and spirituality is merely a matter of opinions and personal preferences. For many, Christ can only be accepted on our terms and anything we deem unacceptable to our tastes is to be ignored or edited away. We are fine with Christ as long as he is who we want him to be and nothing more.

This is diabolical, satanic, and its precisely what the devil wants.

Christ does not come to us on our terms, but on his own. His revelation compels a decision that changes our lives. He doesn’t affirm us as we are or tell us what we want to hear. He resists any and all of our attempts to make him into what we might prefer him to be. He will take us where we would rather not go and reveals what we would prefer not to see.

He does this because he is God, and not a god of our own making, but the one, true God, who entered into human history and accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. In this acceptance, he ventured into all the raw facts of our existence, including suffering and death, so that when we face those facts ourselves, we inevitably come face to face with him.

Anything that we would construct that is less than this revelation is not the suffering servant, but a slave to our egoism, anything less than this revelation is not the Christ- but it is the anti-Christ…

 

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 12th, 2018)

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, meaning that it provides details regarding real people and real events, giving us a glimpse of the events and circumstances that shaped Israelite identity and culture. This identity and culture are significant to the Church because it helps us to understand the Lord Jesus, for in Christ, God chooses to become an Israelite and embeds himself in that identity and that culture. But, also, because the Church is a new kind of Israel and we look to the great historical books, indeed all of the Old Testament help us to understand the Church’s identity and culture. Neither the Lord Jesus or the Church are realities that we simply make up for ourselves, projecting upon them our willful desire so as to make them into whatever serves our ego driven needs and purposes. We don’t make the Lord Jesus or the Church, we receive both from the Lord himself, and they are what the Lord wills for them to be.

Now, our scripture from the Book of Kings presents the prophet Elijah, one of the greatest of the Israelite prophets. Elijah was a wonderworker who not only spoke the Lord’s word of truth, but also performed mighty and miraculous deeds. He said and did things that demonstrated that God was not only interested in the Israelites, but that he had had it with their corrupt politics, willfulness, and idolatry. Elijah did not flatter the Israelites with spiritualized niceties, but told the truth, and for that he paid a high price.

Specifically, he took on the political establishment, King Ahab and his wife Queen Jezebel, who were hell bent on leading the Israelites down a path of moral corruption and rebellion against the Lord God. And of course, the wicked king and queen acted, forcing Elijah to flee into the wilderness. And that’s where we find Elijah today.

Elijah is bereft, despondent that his mission is going nowhere and his efforts are a work of futility. He sees no positive effect. Even the great signs and wonders he performs, impressive as they are, do not provoke conversion. And in that moment of his despair, the Lord God intervenes, sending him food and drink, a sign of the Lord’s favor and encouragement.

This sign of favor and encouragement is meant as what is called a foreshadowing- that is a sign from the past that indicates something that will have significance in the future. The food and drink given by God through the hand of an angel to the prophet Elijah foreshadows the gift of the Eucharist, the food and drink of our Holy Communion.

The life of faith, the way of Christian discipleship is understood by many as merely a comfort and a crutch, and it is not untrue that faith in Christ comforts and supports us in times of distress and trial, but when we reduce Christian faith to this we lose its plot, forgetting that Christian discipleship is always about a mission and that mission will enact a cost, and because of that cost, there will be suffering, even, as it was for the prophet Elijah, moments of desolation, even doubt.

What God in Christ gives to us in those moments is an invitation to receive from him the food and drink of the Blessed Sacrament, which is not, as too many Christians think, merely a nice symbol of community, but it is the Lord’s own divine life given to us so that we can be sustained in our mission- a mission that if accepted will be very much like that of Elijah’s telling the truth, even when it is unpopular to do so, even when it conflicts with the times in which we live, even when it gets us on the wrong side of cultural elites, even when there is a personal cost. The mission of the Church is not about doing what we want, but what Christ wants and letting him take us where he wants us to go.

The Eucharist is food and drink for the mission.

In the Church’s second scripture for today, the Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Ephesus, reminding the Christians there that the way in which they behave, particularly towards one another, is not insignificant. The Christian way of life engenders specific values, ways of acting, and if we do not live in a way that is in accord with what Christ wants, the Church will falter, fail, and fall.

Primary for the Christian is the hard work of compassion and forgiveness, giving to others what often times they need the most, but do not deserve. This is, perhaps, the hardest, and most necessary, work of being a disciple.

Compassion for the Christian is not simply giving to others what they want, but what they need and it’s easy to pay lip service to the value of forgiveness until somebody hurts us. The Christian way is not an easy way. But it is always God’s way, revealed in Christ, and without God’s way, we are lost.

In his Gospel, the Lord Jesus presents the revelation of his Eucharist, the mystery and meaning of the gift of Holy Communion.

The Eucharist is not just a symbol of Christ or a metaphor for community values or an expression of our ethnic identity. All these ideas are just ways of evading the demand that the Eucharist places upon us, ways of trying make Eucharist more palatable to our desire for a religion that is easy and safe.

What the Eucharist is is the life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself, given to us as his gift, given to us to sustain us in our mission, a mission that is anything but merely easy and safe.

Refusal of the Eucharist is also a refusal a Christ, and today’s Gospel makes this connection- those who reject the Eucharist inevitably find themselves rejecting Christ for the Eucharist and Christ are one and the same.

The refusal of some is because they think they can create for themselves a kind of Eucharist, the reduction of the Eucharist to a symbol of the community or cultural artifact is the first step in this direction. But this is just manna in the desert, Christ’s reference to realities that may satisfy us in the short term, but ultimately will betray us. There is but one real presence, one real Eucharist, one Holy Communion, and that is the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, given to us as food and drink.

Most Catholics no longer receive the Eucharist and this should disturb the faithful deeply. Many have abandoned Christ in the Blessed Sacrament because of an experience of dissonance between what Catholics profess to believe and how we behave. Others have abandoned Christ in the Blessed Sacrament because while seeking an invitation to salvation they have perceived that the Church offers not an invitation, but threats. For some the way towards the Blessed Sacrament is so wrought with policies and procedures and politics that they simply give up and go elsewhere. Others still, come to the Church with questions and face Christians within the Church who are so ignorant or befuddled that it leaves the impression that we have lost our minds. And perhaps most tragically, many come to the Church seeking a relationship with God in Christ and discover that many of us know neither God or Christ and even if we claim we do, we present ourselves as embarrassed to speak about them.

But for most, Christ in the Blessed Sacrament has been abandoned because they have settled for the manna of secularism, preferring worldly experiences and attainments, the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, power and honors to the Lord who asks that we give up these things for a higher purpose. For these the Eucharist has become unnecessary, after all, doesn’t secularism promise us that in terms of religion or spirituality, we are just making things up as we go along?

For the Christian who is here, for whom the Eucharist is accepted as a gift, none of this can simply be accepted. Our mission is to go out as Elijah did and meet the challenge head on, whatever the cost may be. Because you see, the Eucharist is not given to us to lull us into complacency, but to sustain us for mission. The mission is, as Christ commanded, to make disciples, to draw people into the Church, to offer to them the gifts of Christ that we ourselves enjoy.

If this isn’t happening, then we are as unfaithful in our reception of Christ in the Eucharist as those who have refused to receive him at all.

 

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 29th, 2018)

The Lord’s Gospel for today presents a startling and strange revelation, indeed a miracle.

This revelation, this miracle, is meant to demonstrate the astounding truth regarding the identity of the Lord Jesus- that he speaks and acts in the very person of God, indeed, that he is, as the faith of the apostles testify: the one true God, who has accepted for himself a human nature and lived a real human life.

Thus, we have a revelation that is leading us to an even greater revelation.

What Christ accomplishes in multiplying mere fragments of food is foreshadowed in the power demonstrated by the Old Testament prophets, indeed their mighty deeds point towards him.

The lesson? Christ is God. He is not, as some claim, merely a prophet, an ethicist, a philosopher or social activist. None of these things can adequately give us an account of Christ’s identity. Christ is the one, whom the Gospels testify “that the winds and seas obey”. He is the one who can forgive sins. He is the one who can bring life out of death. He is the one who fulfills the Law and the Prophets. He is the Lord of Sabbath. And he is the one whose mighty deeds include feeding a multitude with only a few scraps of food at his disposal.

He is God and in the brilliant light of this revelation, we are compelled to a decision. Will Christ be the God that we worship or will we follow some other god? The other god need not be the mythological beings of pagan religion. The other god can be anything that we raise to ultimate concern in our lives- it could be wealth, or power, or honors, or pleasure. It can be any of the strivings of our egoism. It can be our politics or our culture. It can be the pretenses of our opinions or our ideologies. False gods are as ubiquitous and plentiful as human desires and Christ is contrary to all of them.

Will it be Christ or will it be someone or something else that we will worship?

Those who decide for Christ set themselves on the path towards becoming his disciples.

Disciples receive from Christ the privilege of knowing Christ in such a way that they can become like him, and this is the other revelation that today’s Gospel invites us to see and understand.

We become like Christ, not just as a result of knowing certain facts or even doctrines about him, or even from doing good deeds, but of partaking of his divine life.

Partaking of Christ’s divine life means that he offers his life to us in response to our offering our own lives to him. This exchange happens for us, to us, in a mysterious revelation we Christians call the Eucharist or Holy Communion.

The Eucharist or Holy Communion is our reception Christ’s divine life as food and drink.

Thus, the revelation of the multiplied loaves and fishes, presented to us today in the Lord’s Gospel, foreshadows a an even greater revelation- God will give to us not just food and drink, but his divine life as our food and drink, and partaking of this we can become like him- for it is his life that we will consume, it is his life that we will eat and drink. It is his life that we hope to become for our own sakes and for the sake of the world.

This all is, of course, the great mystery and meaning of not only the Lord’s Gospel for today, but of the Eucharist, the Holy Communion which we will be invited to receive. We decide. We decide to give our lives to Christ and he gives his divine life to us.

I know that for many, Christ exists in their lives as but one God among many gods and that for many, the Eucharist is no longer Holy Communion, but merely a symbol of community and culture, but here today, you have before yourself the opportunity to finally decide for Christ, to abandon the false gods and to receive from Christ, not just a symbol, but the gift of his real presence, the gift of his divine life.

But know that if you do, your life must and will change.

You will not find here at this altar the mere earthly food, but the transformation of earthly food into Christ’s divine life. The multiplication that God in Christ effects here is not merely loaves and fish but his divine life in and for you.

God in Christ does not want you merely to glory in his power, to accept his sacraments as mere spectacles, to revere his wonders with the same reverence you give to a symphony or a beautiful vista. God in Christ wants you to share in his life. That’s what the Eucharist is. That’s what Holy Communion is. For those who are content with mere symbols, ask yourself why you would settle for less than what God in Christ desires to give to you. And so, if you expect anything less than Christ’s divine life, you are in the wrong place and you are seeking a god that is not here.

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