The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (November 26th, 2017)

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

The visions of the prophet Ezekiel interpret one of the most catastrophic events in the history of the Israelites.

In the year 587 BC the last remnant of what was once one of the mightiest kingdoms of the ancient world was destroyed- the Kingdom of David.

In 587 BC the armies of the Babylonian empire invaded the city of Jerusalem; desecrated and destroyed the temple of Solomon, (which had been one of the wonders of the world), slaughtered the royal family, (the descendants of Israel’s greatest king, David); enslaved the Israelites (who would spend long years of painful exile in Babylon); and tore down the walls of city, leaving nothing but ruins.

Israel was no more, at least so it seemed.

Ezekiel interprets these terrifying events, and he does so theologically- that is, he asks what God is doing and why. Why has such suffering been brought upon the very people that God called his own? What would God do in response to the sufferings of the Israelites?

Today’s excerpt from the book of the Prophet Ezekiel is written as a kind of code- God speaks to Ezekiel, indicating that the rulers of his people, whom Ezekiel identifies as “shepherds”, the descendants of King David, had for the most part been a disaster and had led the people astray. The preoccupation of the cultural and political elites of the Israelites with wealth, pleasure, power and honors had poisoned the hearts and minds of the people, and the consequence of this were the horrific events of 587 BC. The rulers and elites’ preoccupation with wealth, pleasure, power and honors ultimately delivered God’s people into the hands of their enemies.

What would God do in response? Would he abandon his people?

Ezekiel counsels that God would not abandon his people, but he would rescue them from their enemies and he would himself become the shepherd of his people- that is, in coded language, Ezekiel’s way of saying that God would become their king. No longer would the people be subject to the corruptions of earthly rulers or elites, for God would make himself their king.

Ezekiel also insists that when God the king revealed himself he would set things right and bear a judgment upon all those who through their preoccupation with wealth, pleasure, power and honor, had brought such harm to the Israelites.

What does all this mean?

For us Christians, the vision of Ezekiel and the promise of God the Shepherd who reveals himself as the king, foreshadows or anticipates the revelation of Christ the Lord. Remember, we Christians believe that the Lord Jesus is not merely one of many great men of history. Christ the Lord is not merely a philosopher, social activist, political agitator, or spiritual guru. Instead Jesus the Lord is really and truly God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life- and God has done this so as to reveal himself as not only the king of the Israelites, but of all the nations, indeed of all of heaven and of earth, of the universe itself.

The Church’s second scripture is from the New Testament, an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians who lived in the ancient city of Corinth.

The apostle Paul’s purpose in this particular scripture is to give testimony- testimony to Christ- who he is and what he has accomplished and in his testimony St. Paul insists that Christ has a power that no earthly power can claim- and what is this unique power? The power to defeat death, a power that Christ manifests in his resurrection from the dead.

Remember, we Christians believe that the Lord Jesus who is God, revealed himself in real flesh and real blood- he lived, God lived, like us a real, human life and he died a real human death. But death was not the end of him, for in dying, God in Christ revealed his power to be greater than death and this is what his resurrection signifies to us. And just as his flesh and blood is real and the human life he lived is real, and the death he died is real, so also is his resurrection from the dead.

Christ’s resurrection is no mere symbol or metaphor, but a real event that happened in real space and real time and in a real place. Christ’s body rose from the dead through God’s power in his real body and because of that, St. Paul insists, the world has changed.

That’s what we Christians believe and we refuse to accept anything less than a real event in a real body when it comes to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

For St. Paul, the resurrection of Christ reveals the extent of his power, a power greater than any earthly power- a power greater than the rulers and elites of any age or any nation. St. Paul testifies that so often the rulers of world claim power over our lives, even threatening us with death if we do not yield to their claims. Earthly powers claim and exercise the power to kill, to take life, but God in Christ nullifies their claim to power because he has the power to not only give life, but to raise that life from the dead.

And while we might be enamored and pre-occupied with earthly powers- the politician, the celebrity, the financier, St. Paul insists we pay attention to Christ the Lord, for only he can give life and deliver us from death.

That’s the testimony of St. Paul to the Christians of Corinth- and his testimony to us Christians gathered here today.

Finally, the Lord Jesus presents a frightening vision in his Gospel. He evokes the end of all days, the revelation in this world of an ancient vision from the Old Testament Book of Daniel of one called the “Son of Man”. This Son of Man, who reveals in himself the power of God in the form of a man, comes into the world to set things right and this setting right means that those who have been the victims of earthly powers, whose cries for help were drowned out in the cacophony of politics, whose dignity was assaulted by the pretenses of culture, and whose lives were made miserable by the deprivations of poverty, will finally receive justice. And this justice will also mean a harsh sentence on those who preference and preoccupation with wealth, pleasure, power and honors, made them indifferent to the sufferings of those around them.

Who is this Son of Man? It is Christ the Lord himself. And when will this frightening vision of Christ who comes to set things right come to pass? Sooner than we think.

Remember Christians, it is our faith that Christ the Lord really and truly comes into our lives and into our world- personally and does so in history, in mystery and in judgement.

Christ comes in history in his revelation as God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life- and it is this revelation in history that the scriptures attest to. Thus did God in Christ reveal himself in history.

Christ also comes in mystery, really and truly, but mysteriously in the Church, which is his Body in the world, continuing his revelation in the flesh throughout space and time and through the Church he makes his presence known in the Sacraments, in the lives of the Saints and in the suffering bodies of the poor. Thus does God in Christ reveal himself in mystery.

But Christ also comes in judgement. And what is his judgement? It is the revelation of our truth, a ruthless test of our sincerity as his disciples. He has given us his Word- have we believed it? He has entrusted his with his Church- have we been willing to serve? He has given us his way of life- have we lived it? He has insisted that we love one another as he loves us- have we done what he asked us to do?

That moment of judgement is not in a future far away- it is right now. For in history Christ came into this world and in mystery he remains in world. And in our encounter with him, in history or mystery, our truth will be revealed and our sincerity tested. The Son of Man has come. The day of judgement of which Christ speaks is now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

All he had to do was lie.

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

What is the lesson?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those who are able are Christ’s great athletes.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The early Christians knew and believed this. Do we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cross. Christ’s cross.

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

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

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

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

The new Israel is the Church.

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

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

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

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

Are you ready for this mission?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time (June 21st, 2016)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from the Book of Kings. As I have mentioned, the Book of Kings, along with the books of Samuel and Chronicles detail the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David. The Kingdom of David was the means that God used to unite the disparate and fractious tribes of the Israelites into one people. The purpose of this unity was so that the Israelites could better accomplish their mission, which was to bear witness to the world the reality of the one, true God and show forth their relationship with the one, true God through the unique way of life.

The Kingdom of David was subverted from the beginning by irascible and wicked desires for wealth, pleasure, power and honors. These things were elevated to divine status, becoming the ultimate concern of the Israelites. While the attainment of wealth, pleasure, power and honors are considered by the worldly to be what it means to be successful, the rapacious desire for these things and the elevation of these things to be gods brought about the destruction of the Kingdom of David.

Most of the kings and queens remembered in the historical books of the Bible were mediocre or wicked. Few were faithful to God. Hezekiah, the king mentioned today, was one of the few rulers of the Israelites who was a rare example of fidelity and virtue amongst the mediocre and wicked.

Hezekiah is facing the imminent invasion what was one of the most brutal armies of the ancient world- the armies of Assyria. He turns to the prophets for counsel, and they assure him that the armies of Assyria will be defeated, not by the armies of the Israelites, but through divine intervention. The Israelites cannot save themselves. God will save his people.

The Israelites would be rescued and the Kingdom of David would receive a reprieve from destruction. The people would have the opportunity to repent, but would they?

The words of the prophets to Hezekiah are ominous in this regard. Eventually, only a remnant of the Kingdom of David would remain. The Kingdom of David would fall and the Israelites would be driven from the lands of their ancestors.

Yet, from this remnant, a new hope and new possibilities would arise for the Israelites. God will use what is small to create something great.

Hezekiah is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew as one of the ancestors of the Lord Jesus. It is Christ who is the new hope who would arise from the tiny remains of the once great Kingdom of David. In appearance, Christ seems to be only one man, a small thing, but it is Christ, who to the world appeared to be insignificant, who will re-create Israel and enliven the Israelites with new possibilities.

Christ the Lord has three pieces of advice for us today. The first is to be careful about our presentation of the faith to others, especially the great mysteries of our Faith- the Sacraments. Many will not be prepared to receive the faith in its fullness and if our efforts to share the faith with others are not prudent and carefully measured by what an individual can and is willing to receive, the end result can be disastrous. If we are imprudent in our intentions and methods, it would be like throwing sacraments to dogs, or valuable treasures to swine. Nothing good will come of it.

The second piece of advice is to treat others as we would like to be treated. If we want to be forgiven, we should forgive. If we desire mercy, we should be merciful. If we want to be cared for, we should care for others. If we want justice, then we have to be just ourselves. How we treat others returns to us. We should not expect kindness if we are ourselves unkind.

Finally, Christ insists we seek the mysterious “narrow gate” as our route of access to God. This gate is Christ himself and the way of life that he gives to us.

The way to God is not something that we make up out of our ideas or opinions or feelings, this would be the wide and broad way that Christ insists leads only to destruction. It would also seem to us to be an easier way and it is- but it cannot save and it cannot redeem. Rather than taking us to God it traps us in our own ego, and once imprisoned in the ego, the route of access to God is blocked, obstructed.

Christ and his way of life are more difficult, but he takes us where we need to go. He is the privileged route of access to God and his way sanctifies, heals and redeems.

We could choose another way other than Christ, but Christ the Lord insists that we should not have any illusions about the end result of such a decision. Christ wants us to flourish. He wants us to share his divine life. He wants us all to be saved. But is this what we want? We must make a decision.

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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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