Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 29th, 2017)

 

The first of the Church’s scriptures for today is an excerpt from the book of the

Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah. Zephaniah spoke the Lord’s word of truth in

the years preceding a horrific catastrophe- the destruction of the Kingdom

established by David by the armies of Babylon. This catastrophe is foreseen by

Zephaniah, but he discerns more than destruction- God will act, the prophet

testifies, God will act to effect the restoration of his people. But this restoration

will not produce an Israel like before, worldly, pre-occupied with wealth, pleasure,

power and honors, but an Israel that will manifest to the world their relationship

with God through humility and lowliness. The mighty kingdom of David will pass

away, but the remnant, what appears to the world to be nothing and nobodies,

will be precisely the means through which God reveals himself to the world.

 

In other words, Zephaniah understood the catastrophe that the Israelites would

face, the loss of everything the world considered to be important, to be not just a

loss, but an opportunity. Stripped of worldliness, Israel might become what God

had intended his people to be- true representatives to the world of the one, living

and true God. Bereft of the distractions of wealth, pleasure, power and honor,

the Israelites might better appreciate and understand what it truly mean to be

God’s chosen people.

 

The lesson in all this for us is properly understood by correlating or connecting

what the prophet Zephaniah says to the Israelites and to the Church. The

prophet’s words are for us- for the Church (and by Church I do not mean just the

hierarchy, but all the baptized). How are we enamored by worldliness? How

much of our time and efforts is spent in pursuit of wealth, pleasure, power and

honors? And what does our attainment of worldly things contribute to our

mission as representatives of God in the world? The prophet insists that the

chosen people of God will make him known in humility and lowliness- what would

the prophet make of us? What does God make of us?

 

The Church’s second scripture is from the New Testament letter of St. Paul to the

Corinthians. In this text, the Apostle Paul speaks of a reality that appears to the

worldly to be foolish and weak, a nothing and a nobody, contemptible and

despised. What is this reality of held in such contempt by the worldly?

 

It is Christ and those who belong to him- Christ and his Church.

 

However, what appears to so worthy of the world’s contempt, is in actual fact,

God and his chosen people. In other words, the worldly have got everything

wrong- what the worldly think is power is actually their own weakness, and what

the world thinks is glory, is actually their own foolish pride. What the worldly

think matters most, doesn’t actually matter all that much at all.

 

In Christ, God reveals himself to the world in a way that confounds and confuses

all the expectations of who God is and what he is supposed to do. In Christ, God

makes himself small, in fact, he makes himself seem like a nothing or a nobody,

going so far to allow himself to be maligned, tortured and executed, all so that he

can reveal his power over death, and in doing so, show the worldly just how

empty their own claims to power really and truly are.

 

As it is with Christ, so it is with his Church. Real power, divine power in the

Church is not revealed by those who manage her wealth, preside over her

bureaucracies, or who receive the most in terms of public attention. Real power,

divine power, in the Church is foremost revealed in her Sacraments and in her

Saints- for in her Sacraments and Saints, the Church is most like Christ. The world,

indeed many in the Church, think little of either the Sacraments or the Saints,

preferring the Church’s wealth and power as their preoccupation, but true power

resides in the Sacraments and the Saints. The worldly cannot see and appreciate

this, but to those who are faithful to Christ- they see things rightly and they

appreciate and they understand.

 

Finally, the Church presents to us a select passage from the Gospel of Matthew-

and it is one of the most cherished and renowned passages in the Gospel!

 

The Gospel for today are the Lord Jesus’ own words concerning beatitude or

blessedness. In other words, how does one discern God’s favor?

 

Whom does God single out for his particular attention? Who are the ones that

God chooses to be the means through which he reveals his will and his purposes?

 

The answer to this is revealed to us by God in Christ in today’s Gospel.

 

The worldly insist that divine favor is manifested in worldly attainments- in

wealth, in pleasure, in power and in honors. The worldly prize success in terms of

worldly attainments- who is the richest, who is the most powerful, who is it that is

recognized and rewarded, who is it that lives in comfort and security? The

worldly consider such success as blessedness, as beatitude. These things

represent God’s favor and having these things is the measure, the evidence of

blessedness or beatitude.

 

But God in Christ reveals something else entirely. God in Christ identifies himself

with those who often have little of what the worldly deem to be valuable and

important. In his beatitudes, in his revelation of who is truly blessed by God and

why, Christ overturns our expectations of who has divine favor and what it really

means to be in an authentic and true relationship with God.

Sermon on the Mount
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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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Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter (May 14th, 2016)

The story of St. Paul began in acts with a martyr. Remember, Paul is introduced to us as a persecutor of the Church who is present at the stoning of Stephen, the first of the Church’s martyrs.

The Book of Acts presents Paul as coldly approving of Stephen’s murder.

We then learn that Christ the Lord intervenes in the life of Paul in an extraordinary way, revealing his divine identity and also that his life and presence endures in this world in the Church. Paul learns that in persecuting the Church, he has set himself in opposition to God.

Christ offers Paul what he needs the most, forgiveness and the gift of another chance. Paul the Persecutor becomes Paul the Friend of Christ and his Church. Paul’s acceptance of Christ’s gift transforms him, and leads to the transformation of the world.

We are, all of us, who are the descendants of Gentiles, are also the spiritual descendants of St. Paul.

Today’s scripture from the Book of Acts presents Paul at the end of his missionary adventures. He had intended to go west, to Rome, the center of the known world, and Providence has brought him to Rome, but he arrives as a prisoner. He will be tried in Rome and executed. His story, a story that began with a martyr, will end with a martyr. Paul himself will be the martyr this time. The man who presided at the death of the Church’s first martyr will become a martyr himself.

Eventually the empire that killed St. Paul will fall. Caesar is long gone and his empire with him. It is the successor of the missionary adventure of St. Peter and St. Paul who now presides over the city of Rome, and Rome, which once sent out armies to conquer the world for Caesar, now sends forth missionaries to bring the world to Christ.

We who are the spiritual descendants of St. Paul now share in his mission. Our mission territory is not in far off lands, but here, in our own neighborhood. It is here in this our mission territory that we are supposed to do what St. Paul did, introduce people to Christ and invite them to share his gifts in the Church.

Those who know Christ and accept his gifts must share with others what they have been privileged to receive. This is how the Church flourishes and grows. This missionary work cannot be delegated away to others, but all the Baptized are to advance, as St. Paul did, the cause of Christ and his Church.

St. Paul knew that the missionary adventure would entail sacrifices, indeed he was willing to sacrifice his life. Perhaps far less is asked of us in terms of sacrifices, but we are asked to make an offering for the sake of the Church’s mission. What that sacrifice is will be particular to each Christian, but Christ will ask us for something.

At the very least Christ insists that we be open with others about our identity as his followers and that we come to know him well enough that we can credibly introduce him to others. Christian faith is a way of life that is lived publically and openly. But, you cannot share with others what you do not know, and as such, getting to know the Lord Jesus is necessary. Missionaries must know Jesus, not just vague speculations and scholarly opinions, but they must know him as one knows a friend.

We come to know the Lord Jesus in the Church. He presents his life and presence to us in his Sacraments and in the Scriptures we come to know his identity and mission. Through prayer, we make ourselves available to him, and in our service to the poor, we serve him.

It is in the Church that we become, like St. Paul, a friend of Jesus Christ, and it is from the Church that we go out into the world as missionaries and it to the Church that we bring the world to know Christ, share his gifts and become his friends.

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Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter (May 12th, 2016)

St. Paul’s missionary adventure is about to reach a startling climax. He has been making his way towards the west, towards Rome, but now he discovers that in order to move forward, he must go back. He returns to Jerusalem, or better said, he is returned to Jerusalem.

Paul has been arrested. His testimony to Christ and proclamation of the Gospel has created enough conflict and consternation that Roman officials have placed him under arrest. In their attempts to try to make sense of the situation, they determine that it is a matter of theology, a religious matter, that should properly be settled by the leadership of the Israelite religion. And so Paul is sent to Jerusalem and a council of the leadership of the Israelite religion is assembled in an attempt to adjudicate, if not resolve, the matter.

This effort proves futile. The religious leadership of the Israelites proves that they are themselves divided about Paul and the testimony that he gives to Christ the Lord. The leaders of the Israelite religion cast more heat than light on the situation. In fact, Paul’s testimony incites such a strong reaction, that his life is endangered.

Paul will be sent to Rome, but he will not go there in freedom, but in chains.

All this might perplex us, accustomed as we are to forms of Christianity that eschew any possibility of conflict or controversy. It is likely that most of us have grown accustomed to forms of Christianity that seek to be benign, neutral, accommodating, polite, therapeutic and inclusive. These values are assumed to be normative for Christian faith and as such, render Paul’s testimony unintelligible. Paul’s witness, a witness that causes such an adverse reaction, is something that we likely find difficult to understand if not hard to believe.

The Romans were ready to accuse Paul of treason and sedition. The Israelites were ready to accuse Paul of apostasy and heresy. What was Paul saying or doing that provoked such an adverse reaction?

For the Romans, Paul’s proclamation that Christ was savior and redeemer was considered a taunt against Roman power that acclaimed Caesar as savior and redeemer. Remember, it was Caesar’s authority that had been wielded to torture and crucify Christ.

The Romans were not fools, they knew that Paul was setting up Christ as a rival to Caesar and that his testimony was revolutionary and offered an alternative to the Roman way of life, a way of life that valued above all, wealth, pleasure, power and honors. In contrast to the Roman way, Paul’s way of life proclaimed the primacy of faith, hope and love. All the established political arrangements, political arrangements that insured Roman domination, would be overturned, if what Paul was preaching were to be accepted.

For the Israelites, Paul’s testimony that Jesus is Lord meant that Jesus is the God of Israel, and must be worshipped and obeyed as such. This meant that the Israelite way of life as they had known it would be radically transformed. For the Israelites, Paul’s proclamation was also revolutionary, an upsetting and overturning of established norms and institutions.

Today’s proclamation from the Book of Acts might serve as a reminder us that thought we might insist that form of Christianity that we prefer be benign and neutral, the revolution that Paul proclaimed is not over.

Christ’s Gospel for today continues his assurances that he will be with his disciples even though it seems to the world that he has departed.

Christ is with us, literally, really and truly. He has not disappeared into the stratosphere or passed from this world never to return. Christ is with us in the Church, abiding with us, teaching us, intervening in our lives and in the world in extraordinary ways that the worldly cannot perceive. Christ is present to us, not merely as a symbol, or idea or feeling, but as a living, divine person, and his manner of being with us is called the Church.

Christ’s disciples have as their responsibility to bring people to Christ in the Church. We can be bridges or blocks, routes of access or walls in this regard. If people are not meeting Christ in the Church, the judgment falls on us, not on those who in meeting us, cannot find him.

Christ is present to us in his Church, but it is not enough for us to bask in his presence ourselves, we must make his presence known to others, inviting people to know Christ, and share with us, the gifts he offers in his Church.

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Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter(May 2nd, 2016)

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Acts presents St. Paul in the midst of his missionary adventures. He is making his way westward, into Greece, a trajectory that will eventually ensure that the Gospel is proclaimed throughout the whole world!

While on his mission a woman named Lydia accepts Paul’s invitation to know Christ in his Church, and as she is a wealthy woman of considerable means, she invites Paul to stay with her. Paul accepts Lydia’s hospitality.

Lydia’s gratitude to Paul expresses itself in generosity. Paul has given her something greater than anything that her personal fortune could ever buy- a relationship with Christ in his Church.

How thankful are we for the faith that we have received, for the Sacraments of the Church, for the apostolic teaching, for our unique, Christian way of life? Remember, our faith is always a gift, we did not, could not earn it or purchase it, nor do we deserve what Christ gives to us. How do we show ourselves to be people of gratitude, a people of generosity?

Do we give only out of self-interest or for the sake of personal gain? Or are we willing to give to others in imitation of Christ, who gave gifts to those whom he knew could not or would not ever be able to return the favor?

Christ in his Gospel testifies that his disciples will know persecution. The worldly will hear in the Gospel what they do not want to hear. The wicked knowing that they cannot harm Christ, will seek to harm those whom Christ loves. Christians will always be a sign of contradiction in a world that privileges and favors wealth, pleasure, power and honors.

Thus, being a disciple of the Lord Jesus is not for the faint of heart. It demands courage and conviction. It makes us different, even strange and off putting- more human, rather than less. And in a world that is so often inhumane, more human can be taken as an affront.

To be a Christian is not an easy way, but it is the way that God wants. It always leads to him, even if the way to him takes us through the cross.

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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 7th, 2016)

Our first scripture is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah is one of the grandest and lengthiest texts in the Bible, providing insights regarding some of the most momentous events in the history of the Israelites. These events might seem to us to be irrelevant to our experiences, little more than historical details from long ago, but we are mistaken if we think this way.

The events the Prophet Isaiah presents to us and interprets for us are relevant to us as wisdom, for we too face similar moral decisions. But more than this, they help us to understand the world, the time and place, in which God would reveal himself in Christ, and through understanding that world, that time and place, we come to better understand Christ.

Today’s excerpt from the Prophet Isaiah mentions of the kings of the Israelites, a man by the name of Uzziah, who reigned as king for over fifty years. He was, in terms of the expectations of the world, a success. The Israelites were viewed as powerful and prosperous and the things that the world values, wealth, pleasure, power and honors were readily available to the Israelites.

Yet, despite all the power and prosperity, the soul of the nation was rotting from within. Wealth, pleasure, power and honors had been elevated to a quasi-divine status and the Israelites pursued these with fanatical zeal.

Uzziah would become so full of himself that he would commit sacrilege by usurping the priests in the temple and offering sacrifice in the temple in defiance of the Mosaic Law. The Bible testifies that after this sacrilege Uzziah sickened and eventually died.

Thus one of the greatest of the Israelite kings, as a result of his own grandiosity and pride, is remembered in the Bible as one who brought disgrace to the Israelites, a leader who in a time of moral and spiritual crisis, did nothing but think about how we could amass more power, and in doing this, created a scandal.

In the midst of this cultural crisis, the prophet Isaiah receives his calling as a prophet. It will be his mission to speak the Lord’s word of truth to the Israelites, insisting they abandon of the idolatry that values wealth, pleasure, power and honors above anything else, and accept conversion, a renewal of their relationship with God. This conversion and renewal would be expressed in actions. Conversion and renewal would happen when the Israelites practiced the commandments of God, rather than just paying lip service to them.

The mission of a prophet is not easy. Telling people what they don’t want to hear is not without peril. Yet Isaiah wants this mission- he burns with zeal to speak the Lord’s truth.

Isaiah’s desire should be a desire that the Church prays for. The Church has been created by Christ as the means by which the Lord’s word of truth will continue to be spoken to the world. Isaiah’s mission is our mission. It is not an easy mission. It means sure and certain opposition. But to be witnesses to God’s truth is the mission of the Church.

The idolatry of wealth, pleasure, power and honors is as pervasive in our own culture as it was in Israelite culture centuries ago. The temptation that ultimately destroyed Uzziah, to set oneself above the commandments of God is as strong an influence today as it ever has been. Into this culture the Church is sent with the mission of a prophet and to this culture the Church must bear witness to the Lord’s truth and boldly practice the commandments of God. Christ makes Isaiah’s mission the mission of his Church.

What is the Gospel?

If you were pressed to answer this question what would say? How would you respond?

Today’s second reading, an excerpt from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians gives you an answer- the Gospel is not a collection of manuscripts, but it is the astounding revelation of Jesus Christ risen from the dead.

Now this might surprise some who might think of the Gospel as being ethical demands or moral prescriptions. In this construal the Gospel means something akin to social service or some standard of propriety, like being polite and kind. But St. Paul, when pressed, does not mention any of this, emphasizing not what we should do, but what God in Christ has done.

What we do as disciples comes from what we believe that God has revealed in Christ. Being a disciple of the Lord Jesus is not a self-improvement project, where we fulfill our personal goals and invent for ourselves an outlook on life, all based on our desires. Instead, being a disciple of Jesus Christ is to live differently and in accord with Christ’s desires, and to do this because of who Christ reveals himself to be- he is God.

God in Christ reveals himself to the world, and the world, filled with worldly people like ourselves, oppose him. Why? Because he threatens our pride, our grandiosity that insists that our lives are merely a project of our own making and this world and everything and everyone in it exists for us to use as a means to satisfy our own desires. The worldly, like ourselves, threatened by Christ, wield the greatest weapon against him- the power to torture, to maim, to kill, and in doing so hope that our power over this world is protected.

But God in Christ demonstrates he is more powerful than the death we impose on him. And that is the Gospel preached by Saint Paul.

That is St. Paul’s answer to the question- what is the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus Christ risen from the dead. Anything that we Christians do, our ethics, our morality, starts there. Anything we do as Christians can only rightly begin, and only makes sense, when considered from the vantage point of what God in Christ has done (for us).

It is only when we understand and appreciate what God in Christ has done that we can understand and appreciate what the Gospel is.

Our Gospel for today recounts an astounding miracle. Christ who proves himself to be the master of the winds and the seas, now also demonstrates that he is the Lord of what dwells beneath the surface of the waters. He provides the fishermen who would become his disciples with an extraordinary catch of fish. For these men, whose whole livelihood depended on their success catching fish, what Christ accomplishes with the little effort of only a word is evidence to them of his divine power.

But this miracle is about more than a manifestation of Christ’s power over creation, but it is an image of the Church- the Church represented by the boat, the fishermen representing the disciples of the Lord Jesus, who, to fulfill the command of Christ, seek to draw all people, represented by the catch of fish, into the Church.

Christ wants all people to come into his Church. He designates his disciples as the means by which this will happen. If disciples are following the command Christ then the number of people who will be drawn into the Church will be absolutely astounding- a real miracle and manifestation of Christ’s power.

But what if the efforts of disciples are not manifesting Christ’s power? What if the efforts of disciples are not drawing people into the Church?

Then what is required of us is the disposition manifested by Simon Peter in the story- humility before Christ, a willingness to admit our own insufficiency, a surrender to his will and to the mission that he gives his Church.

Often times, in our hubris, in our pride and grandiosity we become blocks, rather than bridges, set up walls rather than creating routes of access into the Church. Rather than cooperating with the mission Christ gives the Church, we reject his mission in favor of our own. The Church becomes a clubhouse or platform for our interests.

The Church ceases to be what Christ wants, and in becoming contrary to Christ, loses his power to attract.

Rather than trusting in the power of Christ we try to make the Church more palatable to our tastes. Rather than offering an alternative to world, an attempt is made to make the Church worldly. Rather than presenting Christ to the world as he is, an attempt is made to present Christ as we would prefer him to be.

All this results in ever diminishing returns. As the efforts of disciples become more self-directed, self-interested, and to use Pope Francis’ term self-referential, people don’t come into the Church. They drift further and further into the depths and disappear, moving ever more out of the reach of our efforts, ever more out of the reach of our nets.

Rather than attracting, we repel. Rather than gathering, we scatter.

Rather than a miraculous catch of abundance, our nets, which represent our efforts to draw people into the Church, remain empty.

Christ indicates to us that it is his intention that his Church grow. The Church is the privileged route of access to Jesus Christ- relationship with Christ, salvation in Christ, always happens by means of the Church.

Are our efforts bridges or blocks? Do we reveal Christ or obscure him?

Are we our nets full or empty?

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Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time (October 29th, 2015)

There are two factors that are usually at play when it seems the mission of the Church is faltering or failing. This might surprise you, but the factors I have in mind are not cultural pressure brought to bear on the Church from the outside, but they come from within the Church- from Christians. The two factors are indolence and fear.

I will speak about indolence at greater depth another time, but I will say it really is a deadly and pernicious vice and it is a real mission killer.

Fear is the great issue in terms of Saint Paul’s testimony this morning in today’s brief excerpt from the Letter to the Romans. The Christians of Rome to whom St. Paul is writing had good reason to be afraid- they were a tiny, drop of a minority immersed in a pagan culture that, if not openly and violently hostile to the Church, was brutal in its indifference.

In the face of real and evident threats, St. Paul insists on courage. Why? Because Christians are disciples of the Lord Jesus who faced down the dark powers of sin, death and the devil and proved himself more powerful than the combined forces of all three!

A disciple cultivates those habits that imitate their Master and a Courageous Christ compels his disciples to be courageous. St. Paul is brought to Rome in chains under a sentence of death and yet he still insists on giving witness to his faith in Christ and inviting people to know Christ in the Church. What are the Christians of Rome to whom St. Paul writes really afraid of? What are we afraid of?

The fear of Christians usually manifests in an unwillingness to appreciate the urgency of the Church’s mission, a “no” to the immediacy of the demand of love. The bold risk of the Gospel is downplayed and then replaced with a languid maintenance of institutions and an insistence that the Church exists simply to promote my own causes and fulfill my own needs.

A courageous missionary resolve is repudiated in favor of endless discussion and debates about what we want the mission to be. Being a disciple of Jesus becomes a matter of telling him what to do and getting the Church to do what we want. The end result is that the Church ends up doing little or nothing at all. As you can see, the movement from fear to indolence is made in but a tiny step.

The Gospels are filled with conflict and today’s excerpt from the Gospel of Luke highlights Christ’s conflict with Herod. The Herod mentioned in today’s Gospel was one of the sons of King Herod, who was in worldly sense, one of the greatest rulers of the Israelites. He was also a cruel tyrant and he had hoped to create a dynasty by propping up his claims to power with the lie that somehow he was the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy regarding the Messiah.

Herod’s kingdom fragmented at his death and was divided among his sons, of which one, who shared his name, is mentioned in today’s Gospel as an antagonist of the Lord Jesus. The scheming propaganda of Herod and his successors was exposed as a lie by the truth of Christ’s revelation. The Lord Jesus is the true Messiah, not the wicked dynasty of Herod. Christ’s ominous words in his Gospel signal the fall and destruction of the kingdom built and sustained by the lies of Herod and his successors.

The Messianic pretence of Herod continues to play itself out in the elevation of politics and other worldliness to our ultimate concern. The Kingdom of God in Christ is refused in favor of kingdoms of our own making- kingdoms of politics, economics and culture. Seeking our redemption and salvation in these things we create idols, and in our idolatry we display our refusal of the Kingdom of God in Christ. The same truth of Christ that exposed the lie of Herod’s claims, exposes the lies of the kingdoms of worldliness we create and sustain today.

Christ’s lament and warning in today’s Gospel is not just offered for the Herod’s of long ago, but for the successors of Herod who rule today.

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