Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 21st, 2018)

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

We only heard a small fragment of the Book of Jonah and so were deprived of much of the joy of hearing the story of the Prophet Jonah in its entirety.

The prophet Jonah is called by the Lord God to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh the significance of which is lost if one doesn’t know the historical context of the story.

The city of Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, located in what is today known as Iraq. The Assyrians were the mortal enemies of the Israelites, having invaded and conquered the northern territories of the once mighty Kingdom of David. The inhabitants of these territories were 10 of the ancient 12 tribes of the Israelites, and as a result of the Assyrian invasion, these 10 tribes would disappear from history. Think about what a catastrophe this must have been like for the Israelites- to have so many of members of their nation deported, enslaved, killed and finally, disappear.

If the Israelites despised the Assyrians they had good reason.

Jonah is an Israelite and God wants him to go to the capital city of the Assyrian empire and preach repentance so as to save the people there from God’s wrath.

The great drama of the Book of Jonah is that the Israelite prophet doesn’t want to do what God is asking him to do. He would prefer that Nineveh and the Assyrians were destroyed. But despite the creative ways Jonah resists, God has his way and Jonah preaches repentance, and barely utters a word of warning and he becomes the most successful prophet in Israelite history- the Assyrians repent and the city of Nineveh is spared destruction.

The lesson here is not an easy one, especially if one has been wronged by someone and expects that what we would prefer to happen to that person is also what God also wants.

When we have been hurt by someone, as the Israelites had been hurt by the Assyrians, our desire for justice is often such, that what we want most is for that person to experience at the very least, the pain they have inflicted on us. Wickedness should be punished and the wicked should know wrath. God setting things right means him bring to bear on wrong doers a terrifying justice- this is what we expect.

But the Book of Jonah offers us God’s perspective on matters of justice and articulates that his preference is that sinners repent, and by repenting be saved, rather than destroyed. The lesson might strike someone who has never really been hurt as comforting and edifying. But if you have been hurt, you might find yourself as perplexed as Jonah that God is willing to be so generous- even to those who have done terrible things.

The ultimate expression of God’s willingness to forgive is revealed in the cross of the Lord Jesus. In the terror of the cross, humanity proves itself capable of torturing and killing God and God in response, would have been justified at bearing down upon us with the full force of his wrath, and yet, surprisingly, mysteriously, that is not what God does- but instead he transforms the very means we used to torture and kill him into the means of reconciling us to him.

Most of us have our own ideas about how God should set a world gone wrong, right, and the lesson of the Book of Jonah is that God has ideas of his own.

The Apostle Paul has his own warning for us in our second scripture, an excerpt from the New Testament First Letter to the Corinthians. His warning is about becoming unduly attached to worldly things and realities, even good and important things and realities. Why? Because this world is passing away and ourselves along with it. We can appreciate what is worldly, even love it. But worldly realities can only suggest to us what is eternal, and we should never elevate what is worldly to our ultimate concern or give to it an honor and attention that should only properly belong to God.

To do so is to make idols, false gods and the great temptation and capital sin of the Bible is to do precisely this. We may take comfort in our idols, convince ourselves that their false promises are true, but in the end, our idols are swept away along with us- they cannot endure the test of time nor grant us access to eternity. Only the one true God can do so, only he can restore what we believe to be lost and bring life out of death. This is what God has accomplished in Christ, and he has revealed Christ to us so that we might believe and understand that beyond this world is a world for us that is without end, and this world without end is the one that really and truly matters, and what we have in the here and now is not an end in itself, but a means to bring us to eternity.

Finally, Christ’s Gospel connects our first and second reading, demonstrating that the two texts are preparing us to receive Christ’s revelation.

Note that the first words of Christ’s public mission are a call for our repentance, reminding us that we are all, each of us, sinners and in need of a Savior, in need of forgiveness.

Christ comes into the world, into our lives, as Jonah came to Nineveh, insisting that we repent. The difference between the two being that Jonah was reluctant, and Christ is zealous to set us right. He wants to forgive us, for what we have done, for what we have failed to do, and our willingness to repent will indicate that we want the forgiveness that he wants to give. Repentance is receptivity to the grace Christ offers to us.

It is not an easy thing to repent because we are proud and to repent means admitting that we have been wrong or that we are lacking. But no one truly receives the Gospel who has not first repented. Yes, we might hear the words, even know the great doctrines and dogmas of the Church, even appear to the world to be virtuous and righteous, but we will not be in a position to receive the Gospel, the revelation of Christ, unless we first repent.

Also in this Gospel, Christ summons the first of his disciples, the men who will become for him his apostles and the progenitors of the new tribes of his Church.

Once summoned, the do for Christ what the apostle Paul would later insist that we all one day must do- take leave of worldly things and realities.

So extreme is the detachment of these first disciples that they even leave behind, for the sake of following Christ, the means of their livelihood and even their families.

It would be this radical response to Christ’s summons that would become the condition for the possibility for the flourishing of the Church in every age of her long life. You see, the Church is not sustained and does not grow from bureaucracies, offices, procedural handbooks, personnel departments, corporate centers, property management or employees. It is not institutions that sustain and grow the Church, for institutions do not give life, they merely, at their best, house the life-giving activities of the Church.

The Church is sustained and grows from the commitment of men and women who are willing to make the commitment of the first disciples their own- to leave all things for the sake of Christ, to give their lives over to him with the same totality that Christ gives his life to us.

If you sense a kind of stasis, a neuralgia, depriving the Church of the vital energies needed for its mission. If you perceive in the Church an absence of generativity and life, ask yourself and try to identify where are those men and women who embody in their way of life the commitment of the first disciples- forsaking all for themselves so that Christ might sustain and grow his Church from the gift of their lives. Where are disciples such as these- because it is from them, and only from them, that the Church can flourish and grow.





Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 24th, 2017)

Today’s first scripture from the Second Book of Samuel concerns the desire the King David to build a temple. This temple would render glory to God as serve as the spiritual, cultural and political focal point of the Israelite nation.

David was the greatest and mightiest of the Israelite kings, the progenitor of a dynasty that would endure in power until 587 BC, when it would fall before the armies of the Babylonian empire.

David united the disparate and fractious tribes of the Israelites into a single kingdom and gave this kingdom status among the nations. Christ the Lord would be born into a family descended from the Royal House of David and it is near to impossible to understand the identity and mission of Christ with David as a reference point.

Remember, the Church does not present the scriptures of the Old Testament to us as a means of teaching us history or to impress upon us the importance of literature- the Church presents the scriptures of the Old Testament to us, which includes the story of King David as a means of helping us to understand who the Lord Jesus is and what he is all about.

In today’s scripture, David expresses his desire to build a great temple to God- a noble endeavor, one of which you would think God would be pleased to accept. However, David’s advisor, the prophet Nathan, speaks the Lord’s word of truth and that word crashes into the king’s desires.

The Lord does not want David to build him a temple. The temple will be built, but not by David. A successor of King David will do this, and the temple he will build will be one of the great wonders of the world.

Now, David’s son, Solomon will build an extraordinary temple, and it seems that this is the temple that the prophet Nathan refers too, but even this is only a pale foreshadowing of how Nathan’s prophecy will be fulfilled.

You see, God will himself be born into the family of King David and the temple he will build for himself will not be a structure of wood and stone, but of flesh and blood. The temple God will build for himself is the Body of Jesus.

Remember who precisely the Lord Jesus is- not merely a prophet or philosopher or humanitarian, but God, who accepts for himself a human nature and in doing so, lives, like us, a real human life. In Christ Jesus, God has a human body, a body through which he makes himself known and it is this body, the human body of Jesus that is the great and magnificent temple.

This revelation, the revelation of God’s body in Jesus, what Advent prepares us to appreciate and understand. This revelation of God in Jesus Christ, accepting a human nature and living a real, human life is what Christmas (or better put, the Christ Mass) is all about.

And it is the meaning of our second scripture, an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. The letter to the Romans is St. Paul’s “magnum opus” and its purpose is to present the theological and doctrinal content of the Apostolic Faith- meaning what the Apostles, the 12 chosen by Christ, those men who personally knew the Lord Jesus and were taught by him, believed about who the Lord Jesus is and what he asks of us.

The Apostle Paul speaks of the “revelation of a mystery”, a “secret”, “manifested through the words and writings of the prophets”- and what is this mystery, this secret, this prophecy? It is Christ the Lord. And who is Christ the Lord? Christ the Lord is God, who has accepted a human nature and revealed himself to the world as a man. This is what the Apostles who knew the Lord Jesus personally came to understand and believe about him. And this is what we Christians, who have come to know Jesus personally through testimony and Sacrament, understand and believe about the Lord Jesus.

Finally, the Gospel of the Lord invites us to consider the precise moment God “took flesh” in the womb of his virgin Mother- a moment that the Church recalls as the Annunciation. God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, his acceptance of a human nature, does not begin with his holy birth in Bethlehem, but with his miraculous conception in the womb of his holy mother.

Christ’s mother accepts as her mission to be God’s route of access into our world. God effects his conception in the womb of the virgin Mary so that he can reveal himself to us as a man.

This means that God enters into the world, into time, into history, into our humanity in a manner like all of us. He will experience for himself gestation and growth in the womb. He will be born into the world as we were all born. He will grow from infancy into childhood. He will experience for himself the changes of adolescence and the transition to adulthood. And when the moment comes, he will suffer and he will die. And all this is true, it is real. It is not a myth or a legend, but a fact of real flesh and real blood.

And remember: It is not simply a great man, a figure of historical importance, who knows and experiences these realities of our existence, but it is God.

You see, God is not for us Christians a distant, cosmic force or a feeling in our hearts or an idea in our minds. God is personal, a living divine person who is not only interested in us, but who loves us and desires to share his life with us.

God is the one who reveals himself in Jesus Christ by accepting for himself a human nature and living a real, human life. This is how God, the one, true God, makes himself known and invites us into a relationship with him.

And so the great revelation of Jesus Christ is not of a text, or of an ethic, or a feeling or an idea, but of a person. The revelation of Jesus Christ is the one, true God himself.

Advent directs our attention towards the revelation of God become man in Christ. Christmas celebrates this revelation and through our celebration, proclaims the wonderful surprise of Jesus Christ to the world.

In just a matter of hours, Advent will end and Christmas will begin.

In these final moments of Advent grace, let us remember who the Lord Jesus really and truly is.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those who are able are Christ’s great athletes.

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

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

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


Hofmann Christ and the rich young ruler 1889



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!


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.



Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time (June 18th, 2016)

Our first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Chronicles, one of the historical books of the Bible. The Book of Chronicles, along with the Books of Samuel and Kings, detail the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David. The Kingdom of David was the means that God used to unite the disparate tribes of the Israelites into one people, but human pride and folly subverted God’s purpose almost from the beginning of the Kingdom.

Most of the rulers of the Israelites were wicked and brought misery to the people. The Books of Chronicles, Kings and Samuel are brutally honest about the failures of the men and women who ruled the Israelites. The Bible has a keen sense of the tendency of all political arrangements, causes and ideologies towards corruption. Politics can be helpful, but politics cannot save us from our sins, and more often than not, we have to be delivered from the political and ideological systems that we create.

The wickedness of the Israelite rulers was manifested in idolatry, which means the worship of false gods. These false gods were representations of the desires, of not only the Israelite rulers, but also the Israelites themselves, for wealth, pleasure, power and honor. So consuming was the desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors, that the elites of Israel were willing to sacrifice almost anything to attain them- even their relationship with the one, true God.

Today’s scripture makes it very clear that idolatry is not without consequences- in the case of the Israelite rulers it led to violence and murder.

It was the idolization of wealth, pleasure, power and honors that undermined and ultimately led to the destruction of the Kingdom of David. There was no political remedy to the soul sickness of the Israelites. Deliverance would only come when the Israelites, betrayed by the false gods that they worshipped, repented, and returned to the one, true God that they had rejected.   As it was then, so it is now…

The effects of idolatry on our own lives may not be as dramatic as what is described today in the Book of Chronicles, but there will be consequences. Wealth, pleasure, power and honors may not be our idols, but false gods afflict us all. Perhaps our idols are our fears, our desire to be right or to have things our way. Whatever our idols are, nothing good will ever come from them and it is best that we turn away from them and turn back to God.

Christ the Lord insists today is his Gospel that there is no negotiating or equivocation possible when it comes to idolatry. We cannot serve two masters. We either belong to Christ or to someone or something else. The distinction is that stark and demanding.

Belonging to Christ entails a rigorous test of our sincerity, a willingness to detach ourselves from those things that are contrary to his will for our lives. Disciples will often times refuse to choose those things that the world considers to be necessary and important. Further, we cannot be so pre-occupied, as worldly people tend to be, with personal comfort and security. Disciples must be ready for mission and the mission will demand a willingness to endure hardships, make sacrifices and take risks.

Christ may not ask us for the kinds of sacrifices or to endure the kinds of risks and hardships that characterize the lives of so many of the Church’s saints, but he will ask something of us for the sake of the Church’s mission. Everything that we surrender to Christ he returns to us, transformed and redeemed. Nothing of what we give to Christ is ever lost.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lesson?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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