Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 17th, 2018)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from the 17th chapter of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, one of the most beautiful and interesting texts of the Old Testament.

Ezekiel is a priest who is trying to prepare the Israelites for what will be one of the most catastrophic events in their history.  In the year 587 BC, the lands of the Israelites will be invaded by the armies of Babylon, Jerusalem will be ransacked, the royal house of David put to the sword, the temple will be destroyed and the people scattered, enslaved and sent into exile.

In the 17th chapter of his book, Ezekiel offers an allegory which explains how an arrogant and foolish political decision was the turning point for this disaster.  The king will break a treaty with the Babylonians, attempt to form with alliance with the Pharaoh or the Egyptians, and in doing so will provoke Babylon to invade.

This is harsh for the Israelites to hear, because Ezekiel places responsibility for the catastrophe on the Israelites themselves, a reckoning he believes is necessary if they are to repent.  Truth sets us free- all the biblical prophets insist on this and it is especially coming to terms with the hardest truths we refuse to admit that do the most to free us from our self-deception.

At the conclusion to Chapter 17 is the scripture passage we heard this morning.

The meaning is that though the Israelites have been cut off, indeed, cut down, by the terrifying events of 587 BC

In this respect, the surviving Israelites are like the “crest of the cedar tree” that Ezekiel is referencing.  The Lord will take this remnant of a once great and now fallen tree and from it will renew its life.  In other words, the Israelites, reduced and humiliated, will, through God’s power, be restored.

The events of 587 BC haunt much of the Old and New Testament.  In fact, much of what the Lord Jesus has to say about the Israelites concerns the fulfillment of the promises and insights of prophets like Ezekiel.  We know little about the events of 587 BC and their significance, which is one reason why there is a tendency for the scriptures to sound strange, even unintelligible to us.

The sages and saints of the Church have understood that the story of the Israelites from the Old Testament has a great deal to tell us about the story of the Church.  And this is how we can try to understand Ezekiel’s insights.  Coming to terms with our own complicity in events that have diminished the Church is what a prophet like Ezekiel imparts to us.  Admitting the hard truth that if the Church is not flourishing, it is far too easy to blame someone else, rather than accept what we ourselves have done or failed to do, is a necessary crucible.  And further, remembering the Church did not begin as a massive international institution with seemingly unlimited resources and unassailable prestige.  How did the Church begin?  It began small.  And in every age, when through human wickedness the Church falters and fails in her mission, God preserves enough of what is good to assure that the Church continue.

It is most often through small movements, small communities, that the Church is reformed and renewed.  It seems that this is God’s favored way of doing things- he can even take the seemingly diminished and withered Church that is the experience of so many, and from that remnant, make the Church bloom with renewed life and vigor.

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

The Apostle speaks about his body and our bodies and in doing so he makes a very important point about the Christian way of life- our bodies matter.  But why does the body matter so much for the Christian?

Because it is the Body of the Lord Jesus revealed in his Incarnation that saves us; it is into the Body of Christ, the Church, that the Lord Jesus gives his way of life to us, it is the Body of the Lord Jesus given to us in Eucharist that sanctifies and sustains us, and it is the suffering bodies of the poor in whom Christ dwells that we serve the Body of Jesus himself.

Knowing Christ, encountering Christ is not simply a matter of our mind or our emotions, but of our bodies and it is through our bodies, practicing the Faith of the Church in worship, Sacraments and works of mercy that Christ redeems us all.

Christ reveals himself in a body, a body like our own and in our bodies that his salvation happens to us.

It is mistake to reduce our faith to having the right ideas or thoughts or having the right kinds of feelings- as if ideas and thoughts and feelings are all that it means to be a Christian.  Christian Faith is about the significance of bodies, Christ’s Body, the bodies of our neighbors, and yes, even our own bodies.

This physicality of the Christian way of life is hard for many to take.  Bodies are, after all, messy, often times non-compliant, and very difficult for us to deal with.  A faith that is reduced to ideas and feelings is far less demanding than dealing with bodies.  But the significance of the body is a non-negotiable necessity for the Christian for God in Christ has chosen the significance of our bodies.  How so?  By accepting for himself a body, a human nature, and through that body, living like us, a real, human life.  In doing so, God made the body, our bodies an inescapable fact of our faith and a necessary route of access to him.

Finally, in his Gospel, the Lord Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God, testifying that it will always first manifest itself in what is small, like seeds sown, and as a particular example, a seed as miniscule as the mustard seed, which can produce an enormous plant.

Now, I know we Christians have a tendency to spiritualize the kingdom of God, thinking of it as being an otherworldly reality like heaven, but this is really a mistake.

Connect our first two scriptures with this Gospel: Ezekiel speaks of the restoration of an actual people in this world, the Israelites and St. Paul emphasizes the physical, bodily reality of our faith.  And in his Gospel Christ speaks about a kingdom, a kingdom that starts small and has the potential to grow and grow.

This kingdom of which Christ speaks is a new kind of Israel in this world, a kingdom composed of real flesh and blood, of bodies.  This kingdom is the Church and the Church has and will always start small, but it isn’t supposed to just stay small, because like the small seeds Christ references in his Gospel, the Church is filled with the potential to grow and grow and grow.

The Church is the kingdom of God.  And the seeds of the Church have been given to us to sow into the world.  The seeds of the Church are small, and as such, many Christians try to protect them, keeping them safe as if planting them in the world would mean they would be lost.  But this over protectiveness simply results in a Church that never realizes its purpose and the life that the Church does have ends up withering away and dying.

The task of every generation of Christians is to sow the Church, to plant the Church in the world, that is, to facilitate the growth of the Church and in doing so bring the kingdom of God to life- not just in heaven, but in the here and now.

This task is not something that can be delegated away to religious professionals, it is the mission of every Christian.  So, ask yourself now, because the Lord Jesus himself is going to ask each of us later, and our answer is going to matter more than anything else- are you sowing, planting the seeds of Church and helping the Church to grow?  Or are you missing in action in the fields of the world or worse, tearing up what he has already planted?

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Fifth Sunday of Easter (April 29th, 2018)

The Church’s first scripture today is an excerpt from the New Testament Book entitled “Acts of the Apostles”.  The book of Acts is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke and whereas the Gospel of Luke presented the story of the Lord Jesus acting in the world and in the lives of his friends and followers in the body of his Incarnation, the book of Acts presents the Lord Jesus acting in the world and in the lives of his friends and followers in a new kind of body- the body of Christ which is the Church.

You see, the Church is not just a faith-based non-profit corporation or community center or institution.  The Church is both mystically and really the Body of Jesus living and acting in the world.  When we get that understanding of the Church right the profundity of our lives as Christians and the urgency of our mission as disciples becomes really and truly evident and real.

Now, in our scripture from Acts of the Apostles we hear of Saul, a convert to the Faith of the Church, who we learn is not a very popular fellow.  In fact, he is kind of a pariah, viewed with fear as derision by his fellow Christians.  Why is this?  Remember, Saul was a persecutor of the Church.  In fact, his efforts led to acts of violence and murder against Christians and so even in light of his remarkable conversion, folks are understandably angry with him and suspicious of his motives.

A Christian by the name of Barnabas acts as an advocate and friend of Saul and helps him to establish trust and to find his mission in the Church.  Saul will eventually take the name Paul and we know him as St. Paul and his testimony, through his letters, are known to us as holy scripture, reverenced as genuine witness to the faith of the Apostles.

Just as Barnabas guided Paul, so now Paul guides us still, each time we hear his words proclaimed.  In fact, in the great genealogy of the Church’s faith, our own faith can be traced back to that friendship of Barnabas and Paul.

The lesson?  No one comes to the faith alone and no one’s faith can be sustained for very long in isolation.  All of us are Christians because someone at some point brought us to the Lord Jesus and helped us to find our place in the Church.  Who is your Barnabas?  What Barnabas did for Paul should not be understood by us as a task for religious professionals or Church bureaucrats, it is the common and shared mission of all the baptized, of all believers.

The Church grows and flourishes, not simply as a result of annual collections, but because Christians are willing to extend to others the invitation to know Jesus Christ in the Church and to share with them the Church’s unique way of life.

If Christians are unwilling or unable to do this, then no pastoral plan, mission statement or capital campaign can save the Church from decadence and decay.  Always remember, in the beginning there were none of the things that we have come to rely on to grow and support the Church- there were no parishes or dioceses, there was no infrastructure or bureaucracy.  No one understood the Church as an expression of their ethnicity or culture.  Nothing about the Church was taken for granted.  What did the Church have?  Relationships.  Primarily a relationship with Jesus Christ, which expressed itself in their relationships with one another.

Those relationships were not closed, making the Church an exclusive club, but were open to others (open even to a person like Saul, who had hurt them so terribly!).  The Church grew because Christians were willing and in fact saw it as their mission to share the relationship they had with Christ and the Church with others.  That’s what grows the Church.

The Church’s second scripture for today is an excerpt from the First letter of John and in this text we hear testimony to the relationship of love to the commandments of God- in other words, love is not primarily or simply an emotion or a feeling, but an act of your will to do what is good, to do what God wants you to do.

What God wants us to do is to keep his commandments, and in this way, the First Letter of John insists, we learn what it truly is to love.

The relationship between love and the commandments of God is contrary to much of what our culture presents as love- love is understood primarily as an emotion or an intuition to follow one’s heart, which means to do what is emotionally satisfying.  The commandments of God are many times presented as a foil to this quest, inhibiting, rather than facilitating love.

But the sense and sensibility of the Scriptures, insists that true love is found in the commandments of God and that love is not an emotion, but an act of our will in which we seek to do what God asks us to do.  What God asks us to do is not left shrouded in mystery, but it is expressed in his commandments and his commandments are not abstract, but concrete, not theoretical, but practical.  Not difficult to understand, but at times hard to do.

If you want a thick description of what this looks like concretely, look into what are called the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, for in these you can discern the kind of love that emerges when we seek a way of life ordered and directed by the commandments of God.

And there is the lesson: true love, real love, happens only in relation to the commandments of God.

Finally, in his Gospel, the Lord Jesus testifies that his relationship with us is like that of a vine to branches.  In other words, he is the source of the nourishment that enables us to flourish and grow.  The fruit of our vines are works of holiness, virtue and love, from which our testimony to Christ becomes credible and from this testimony, the Church thrives and expands.

Our lives as Christians are not self-sustained or self-directed.  Being a Christian is not an act of self-expression.  Instead, to be a Christian is to live in relationship with Jesus Christ and this relationship is integral and necessary to who we are and to our unique way of life.

Our relationship with Jesus Christ is not merely a matter or ideas or emotions, but of being connected in concrete, tangible ways with Christ.  This is what the Sacraments are for us.  This is what the Mass is all about.  This is what service to the needs of our neighbors and to the poor is all about.  Sacraments are not just cultural expressions, but expressions of Christ’s relationship to us.  The Mass is not just an expression of the community’s values, but an expression of Christ’s relationship with us.  The opportunity to love and serve our neighbors or the poor is not just good citizenship or volunteerism, but a way of loving and serving Christ.

When the Sacraments become only expressions of culture, the Mass merely community self-expression and service merely volunteerism, then we have become like branches detached from the vine, and the faith, indeed the Church, will wither away and die.

Being a Christian is being in relationship with Jesus Christ and being in relationship with Jesus Christ is being in relationship with his Church.

This, friends, expresses the “golden thread” that is tying our scriptures for today together.  Indeed, it is the “golden thread” that connects all Christians together.

We are not as Christians in relationship to an ideal or a culture or an obligation, but to a living divine person, who for the sake of his love for us, accepted a human nature like our own, and lived a real, human life.  This living divine person has given himself the name Jesus and makes his presence known to us through his Church.

All this means that we are not exiles in this world, nor are we alone.  God is not an indifferent cosmic force, but a living person who seeks to meet us face to face and in Jesus Christ calls us his friends.  He is with us in this world, even now, and our relationship with him gives our lives meaning and purpose.  In the Sacraments of the Church we encounter him, and that encounter changes us, makes us different.  Death does not sever our relationship with him, but has in fact, been transformed by Christ as the means to take us to him.

A relationship with Jesus Christ is what being a Christian is about and if we don’t think it is, if we don’t live like it is, then we are missing the point.

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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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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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Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter (May 7th, 2016)

In this morning’s scripture from the New Testament Book of Acts, we are introduced to Apollos, a disciple of the Lord Jesus who would become a person of great influence in the early Church.

Apollos is introduced to us as a man who can eloquently speak and teach about the Lord Jesus, but who does not possess the fullness of the apostolic faith. What he has to say about the Lord Jesus is true, but it is also incomplete. Further, Apollos has not received the baptism of the Church, and as such, does not share in the fullness of the Church’s way of life. Two disciples, Priscilla and Aquila, who are friends of St. Paul, introduce themselves to Apollos, and share with him the teachings about Christ and the Church they have received from St. Paul.

There are two aspects to the Church’s missionary project. One aspect is to introduce people who do not know the Lord to Christ and invite them to share Christ’s gifts in the Church. The other aspect is to invite those who know of Christ to share in the fullness of the apostolic faith. There are many disciples of Christ, who, like Apollos, know the Lord, but not in the fullest sense of how Christ wants to be known in relation to his Church.

Christ wants people to know him in the Church, learn the apostolic teaching about the Lord and to experience and receive his life and presence in the Sacraments. When Christians are gathered together into the community that we call a parish, the purpose of this gathering and parish to make the Lord Jesus known and invite people to know Christ in the Church. The Church is not an optional add on to one’s relationship with Christ, but is integral and necessary.

Those who know and experience Christ in his Church have as their mission to share what they know and experience with others.   Like Priscilla and Aquila, our efforts to introduce people to Christ must be intentional. Disciples do not believe that knowing and experiencing Christ in his Church should simply be left to chance or delegated to an elite corps of believers.

The Church grows through introduction and invitation and disciples are the ones who make the introduction and extend the invitation.

Who have you introduced to Christ? Who have you invited to share a relationship with Christ in his Church?

Christ the Lord speaks again about his departure. His disciples will no longer know him in the manner that he presented himself to them in the mystery of his Incarnation. He will present his life and presence to them in a new kind of Body, the Body of the Church. It is through the Body of the Church that Christ presents himself to the world and invites people to be his disciples.

Christ the Lord assures us that through his Body, the Church, he will continue to care for us and act on our behalf. He hears and attends to our prayers with the same concern that he manifested when he heard and attended to the needs of those disciples who knew him in the flesh of his Incarnation.

Christ has not abandoned us. He has not become merely an idea or feeling or memory. He extends the power and presence of his Incarnation throughout history in the Church and it is through his Church that he is present, active and working for our salvation and for the salvation of the world.

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Solemnity of All Saints (November 1st, 2015)

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints. The Saints are the great heroes of our Faith. The Church describes a Saint as a person of “heroic virtue”.   This means that while many Christians might be willing to settle for lackluster accomplishments as disciples, the Saints engage their relationship with the Lord Jesus vigorous creativity and absolute dedication. Most often, the work of the Saints will go unnoticed and unseen. Saints are not celebrities, and those Saints who capture the attention of the world, view that renown as the imposition of a cross.

Most Saints will disappear into the mission of the Church.

In heaven, we will know the profound impact thousands of hidden Saints had on our lives, but here on earth, as I said, most of the Saints move about and work among us, and do so for the most part unnoticed and unseen.

The work of the Saints is not completed with their deaths. The Saints know better than most Christians that life here in this world is not merely an end in itself, but a means by which God prepares us for a greater and more important mission in heaven. No one who is in Heaven is indolent. Heaven is not a place of indifference to this world but one of interaction and intercession. This means that the Saints continue their mission as disciples of the Lord Jesus, supporting and sustaining the Church, acting to help and support all the baptized.

The first scripture for today’s Mass of All Saints is an excerpt from the New Testament Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation is one of the most mysterious, complex, and misunderstood books of the Bible. It is a theological commentary on events from the past, present and future and it communicates important spiritual insights through fantastic images and symbols. The common impression is that the Book of Revelation is about the end of the world, and as such people are often terrified by its content.

But, properly understood, the Book of Revelation is not simply frightening, but reassuring, as it foresees the victory of God in Christ over all the dark powers, worldly and otherworldly that oppose him.

The Book of Revelation is not simply about the end of the world, but the beginning of a new world in which the great enemies of God, and therefore the enemies of humanity are defeated by the power of God in Christ. These enemies are sin, death and the devil.

The conflict between the dark powers of sin, death and the devil has consequences for the Church as it engages her mission in the world. The Church is opposed as Christ was opposed. The Church suffers as Christ suffered. And in all this, the Saints are on the front lines of the battle.

The Book of Revelation displays all that I just described in symbolic or metaphorical terms. What you heard about was a vast assembly of people from all over the world, clothed in white, who proclaim the coming victory of God in Christ. Who are these people? The text tells us- they are Christians whose heroism was revealed in their willingness to be killed rather than renounce their Christian Faith or cooperate with the dark powers.

Thus, our first scripture for today is about a particular kind of Saint- the martyr. We live even right now in an age of martyrs as multitudes of Christians in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are persecuted and killed because they are disciples of the Lord Jesus. We might think that the greatest challenge to the Church today is whether or not we should conform to secular values, but far more important than this is the brutal fact that for millions of Christians, professing and practicing the Christian Faith can cost you not just your livelihood, but also your very life.

On this day when the Church celebrates the Saints, it would be good for us to remember, that what is demanded of us as followers of the Lord Jesus is often times far less than what it demanded of others.

We are not compelled by circumstances to die for our Faith in Christ, but are we willing to live for it? If our sacrifice is not to be that of a martyr, what is the sacrifice we will offer?

Our second scripture is a brief passage from the First Letter of John, in which the evangelist articulates an important insight about our identity as Christians. We are not as Christians merely members of a faith-based social club, an ethnic or cultural association, political action committee, or supporters of a 501C3 non-for-profit initiative. In the words of Pope Francis, the Church is not an “NGO”- a non-governmental social service organization.

What are we then? The evangelist John tells us- we are the children of God.

This means that God has made us in Christ his beloved children, and just as children are an expression of their parents love, so too Christians are meant to be for the world an expression of God in Christ’s love.

Being a child of God, means aspiring to be like the One who is revealed to be God’s only beloved Son- Jesus Christ. Being a child of God is not just some privileged title, but a responsibility, an identity, a mission that a Christian accepts. The Christian, as a child of God, is meant to be an expression to others of Christ himself. Thus, when a Christian is baptized, he or she is proclaimed to be what is termed an “alter Christus”, that literally means “another Christ”.

The Saints are expressions of Christ-likeness par excellence. The Saints “re-present” Christ to us and through the Saints Christ acts and introduces himself to us. Saints are not just nice, friendly people who do good things for society, but they are Christians who aspiring to serve Christ as disciples, are given the gift of becoming ever more and more like him.

And that observation brings me to an important clarification: when a Christian is baptized, what is happening to that person is not just inclusion into a community. No!

What happens when a Christian is baptized is that person is chosen as Christ to be like him- a person is chosen by Christ to be a Saint. The realization of your life as a Christian is not simply that you become a member of a faith based club or matriculate through faith-based institutions, but that you become a Saint. That’s what Baptism is all about, indeed, that’s what the Sacraments are about, indeed what the whole life of the Church is about. Being a Christian is about being chosen by Christ to be a Saint. “You have not chosen Christ, he has chosen you!” You will never begin to understand what the Christian life is all about until you understand this universal summons to holiness, this summons to be a Christian, which is God in Christ choosing you to be a Saint!

Finally, in his Gospel, the Lord Jesus presents what are known as “The Beatitudes”- a proclamation of those who are truly blessed by God and who enjoy God’s favor.

In worldly terms the blessing of God, the favor of God is many times construed in categories of worldly success or exemption from the harder facts of human existence. Some consider God’s blessing to being the recipient of prosperity and wealth, talent and good looks, power and prestige. God’s favor happens, according to some, when they are exempt from having to suffer or to struggle. Christ the Lord upends these kinds of expectations, and declares that the blessing of God and the favor of God is given, not to those who have the most, but those who have the least; not to those whom the world esteems as successful, but to those who seem to the world to have failed; not to those who have power, but to those who seem to have no power at all; not to those whom the world considers to be significant or influential, but to those who go mostly unnoticed and unappreciated.

In other words, in his Beatitudes, God in Christ announces a revolution!

Blessing is not getting what we want, but having the opportunity to give to others what they truly need. God’s favor is not an exemption from the hard facts of life, but God’s favor is found within the hard facts of life.

The Saints will exemplify in their lives the Beatitudes of the Lord Jesus, their blessing and favor will look like the strange blessing and favor that the Lord Jesus describes. The Saints will not only exemplify the Beatitudes in the decisions they make about the way they live, but also in whom they will seek to serve and choose to associate with. The Saints will seek the company of the kinds of people that Christ describes in his Beatitudes.

Consider the decisions you have made about your life. Have these decisions made you a person whose life looks like the life described in the Beatitudes? Consider the people with whom you associate and whom you esteem. Are these people like the people described in the Beatitudes?

And in our answers to these questions is the challenge for all of us would be saints, saints in the making- do our decisions make of us men and women of the Beatitudes? How many of the people that we seek the company of and consider to be our friends look and live like the kinds of people Christ describes as being truly deserving of his blessing and favor?

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