Feb 23, 2017

God of all creation, 
who were pleased to give the Bishop Saint Polycarp
a place in the company of the Martyrs,
grant, through his intercession,at, sharing with him in the chalice of Christ,
we may rise through the Holy Spirit to eternal life. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God for ever and ever. 


Psalm 108: 2-7

My heart is ready, O God, 
my heart is ready. 
I will sing, I will sing your praise. 
Awake, my soul;
Awake O lyre and harp,
I will awake the dawn. 

I will praise you, Lord, among the peoples
I will sing psalms to you among the nations,
for your faithful love is higher than the heavens, 
and your truth reaches the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
may your glory shine on all the earth!
With your right hand, grant salvation and give answer;
O come and deliver your friends.

Feb 18, 2017

7th Sunday - "Is this too much?"

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

Leviticus 19:1-2,
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

Our Scriptures this Sunday bring us further along the road of Jesus' moral teaching.  This week the fundamental call to love one another, in particular to "love your enemies" and "to pray for those who persecute you" present a great challenge to our natural desire to get back at those who do us wrong.  It is a call to non-violence of which we have seen powerful examples in history: the early Christian martyrs of our Church, Mahatma Ghandi, and in our own country Martin Luther King have been historical examples of peaceful protest, in the face of oppression and forced evil upon the innocent.  Our present day peaceful marches for the right to life are a perfect example of an application of Jesus’ teaching.

While we may acquaint such events as acts of social justice, Jesus’ teaching applies to our everyday lives, marching or not.  Our Lord was not so much a social activist with political ties but rather offers all of humanity a new insight on how we are to live in this world.  As followers of Christ, we have a particular responsibility and opportunity to show the world what Jesus meant for all. His call to act with non-violence in the face of evil is a powerful position to take the higher road of love as a guide.

Yet it brings up the question we may ask about how difficult and realistic this teaching may be.  How is it possible to love your enemy; to turn the other cheek in the face of aggression? When we feel we are criticized unfairly or our reputation is defamed or someone we care about is harmed by another, our natural reaction is defensive with a desire to seek revenge. So, am I supposed to be a door mat? 

Then maybe the most impossible demand: “Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Come on now! I’m far from God’s perfection. But, the real power here is that Jesus speaks about the love of God and how to love as God loves. That is what should be made more perfect in us.

Maybe part of the problem is that we don't really understand the meaning of the word “love.” 
For example, we throw the word "love" around in reference to many things and use it in a multitude of casual conversations.  We say we love Italian food and then use the same word to say we love our pets who give us love in return. Or you love your spouse or a good friend or I love to go skiing or I love my car or my cell phone.  I may say that I love this movie or this particular song.  I love to read. Children may say “I love you daddy” or “I love you mommy.” And that’s just to name a few situations in which we spread the same word around to describe how we feel about anything. That’s a lot of love!

A good example of what Jesus implies about love may be in the Church's understanding of marital love.  At the present time for very good reasons, we Catholic priests are not allowed to hold weddings outside the Church.  For those who request a wedding in a vineyard, near the beach, or by a water fall, we say: "Beautiful place for the reception but the wedding must take place in the sacred space of the Church."  Why?

Because marital love is sacrificial and not based only on emotions and good feelings.  It's not about the show or the destination it is about your love - your sacrificial commitment - to one another and eventually within the context of your family and out to others.  

The altar has always been seen as the place of sacrifice.  So the Church says to the couple, "Bring your love to the altar and join it with the sacrifice of Christ himself." To hold the wedding in a sacred place of worship and prayer and before the altar of Christ is to genuinely illustrate the commitment of husband and wife to one another and their continued life in the Church.

Married love, then,  is called to become a kind of icon of sacrificial service in the same way that a celibate priesthood is called to be an example of love that reaches out beyond oneself.  There is no better place to see that connection than before the altar of God where sacrifice happens. However, whether married or not we are all called to this heroic witness by Jesus who clearly sets the bar very high for his followers.

My point is that my "love" for Italian food is different than my "love" of ministry in the Church.  Or husband and wife "love" each other differently than they "love" their two dogs - at least let's hope so! So, Jesus’ word must imply a qualitative difference in this fundamental teaching about love of enemies.

So, when Jesus says to "love your enemies “is he implying that we must feel affection for them as you would for your spouse, which is our popular understanding of love. In the case of our Lord, he supports a non-violent response to violent action.  We are not called to be door mats or wimps.  To love our enemies is to not engage in an eye for an eye as we hear in our first reading from Leviticus.  It is better to not seek retribution but to illustrate for our "enemies" the value of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

It is better and wiser to seek peace rather than to continue the evil perpetrated upon me or others. It is right to stand up in the face of evil and respond with ones integrity in tact rather than give in to dishonor or humiliation from another. In the Middle East the virtue of honor was sacrosanct.  To be humiliated and dishonored would be shocking.  

To “turn the other cheek” is a way of saying that “I will not be overcome by your insult.” Our Lord implies that even these acts of dishonor really mean nothing. So, I respond with no ill will toward you; no eye for an eye which just continues the round of aggressive behavior. Rather, I wish you no harm and offer a hand of forgiveness. 

What means everything is the power to love peacefully. You can slap me on the face, take my tunic, force me to walk the extra mile but it all really means nothing.  What matters is the power of my witness and the force of love to bring conversion.  My love must be universal and not selective.  This is what must be perfected in us and if so we have learned to love as God loves.   

For example, the martyrs of our Church are held in such high esteem because they stood as witnesses to the higher truth of their faith rather than cower in submission to aggression.  While they paid for this with their lives, their witness to this love only caused the Church to grow all the more.  My example to the persecutors would be to show them a better way to behave. Not easy, for sure at times, but the better way of Christ. This is the higher road to walk in which I maintain my personal dignity which they tried to destroy and it is possible through the grace of God. 

So, it is that we put no limits on our love for others.  It’s not about how we may personally feel about them or their politics or their opinions but rather that we are all brothers and sisters joined by a common humanity.  As God makes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust, so too our honor and respect, our love for each other, should have no limits

Is this the road to perfection?  Can we then be perfect as our heavenly Father?  Well, in all truth conversion is a process, or course.  At St. Paul reminds us today, “you belong to Christ.”  Such high expectations by Jesus are only ultimately possible through the grace of God given to us. We know we are not perfect and will most likely never be so yet to enter the process of embracing this way of reverence for others certainly offers us the road map to achieve holiness before God. 

In sharing the Eucharist together we share in the love of Christ, his body and blood, poured out for us.   

As we celebrate your mysteries, O Lord, 
with the observance that is your due, 
we humbly ask you, 
that what we offer to the honor of your majesty
may profit us for salvation. 
Through Christ Our Lord.

(Prayer over the Offerings)

Feb 16, 2017

Come to understanding

"Who do people say that I am?"

Reflection on Mark 8: 27-33

Just when you think you know someone very well you discover something new about them that either surprises you or shocks you.  You may discover a past or present behavior of a friend or spouse that leads you to think how generous or kind they were.  Or how they overcame an adversity with a tough and courageous spirit.  Or sadly maybe some behavior that is disturbing which hopefully we learn from our mistakes - yet we sometimes don't.  At least not immediately. 

Well, I believe the same was true in the case of the Apostles and Jesus.  We may imagine that they knew Jesus very well.  They were called by him, spent their days and nights in his presence, witnessed the miracles and heard his inspiring teaching.  They saw the crowds he drew and were present when he walked on water in the midst of a stormy lake.  And of course they were present at supper when he shared bread and wine - his body and blood for them and all.  

Yet, Jesus was mysterious and often his teaching in parables and its meaning was not always clear. The crowds didn't always understand the deeper implication of his miracles and so too the Apostles. They came to a gradual comprehension of who and how they were called to share in his mission. 

The Gospel above for this Thursday indicates that though Jesus' question to all of them about what sort of opinions they heard from the crowd about his identity, may well have reflected their own limitation - at times confusion about his person.  Only Peter speaks up but I've always wondered if the other eleven likely had some diverse opinion of Jesus.  Maybe they too wondered if he was John the Baptist returned or one of the Prophets present again.  Certainly he seemed to preach with the same conviction and act with a singular authority and purpose.  So, who is he?  

Peter speaks the truth but he does not comprehend the full meaning of his own statement.  That was yet to be revealed but suffering and death was not a part of what Peter imagined, and likely the others as well.  That was yet to be revealed through the events of suffering and death Jesus refers to.  So, lest there be misunderstanding, keep this to yourselves for now.  

Evidently, Peter was strong in his reaction to Jesus predicted suffering.  Our Lord "rebukes" him.  A strong word which brings up images of a stern and near angry tone from Jesus.  It must have startled Peter and the others enough that they got the point that although Peter meant well to protect Jesus from such scandal, he didn't get the point.  So, they must wait and see.  The glory of the resurrection and the Pentecost event was yet to unfold.

In time they would come to see and understand after the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit.  This was the time of their formation until they would come to connect the dots and see the truth.  

In a sense, the same is true for us I think.  In know that in times of prayer and the busy days of ministry I've been surprised, inspired, embarrassed by my own preconceived idea of things, etc.  God knows us far more than we think we know ourselves.  Although he remains a mystery, through Jesus he has made himself approachable and revealed his heart of mercy for us all.  

So, let yourself be surprised by God.  Approach him with no expectations and pray to be open to what he wants to reveal through his sacred Word, our daily lives and the sacraments. 

Feb 11, 2017

6th Sunday: "Stay on the mark"

"I have come not to abolish but to fulfill"

Sirach 15:15-20
       1 Corinthians 2:6-10
 Matthew 5:17-37

The easiest explanation of sin that I think I’ve heard is to define sin as “missing the mark.” It’s an example I’ve used in teaching children and parents of children preparing for their first Eucharist but also in many other applications.   

What we are saying is that God has provided for us a reference point on which to stand in order to live his law of love.  He essentially is saying that if we stay on this point, this mark, and within its boundaries, we will have a life of harmony with one another and with him. 

However, like Adam and Eve, we often wonder what’s “out there.”  Why should I not eat this fruit even though I have plenty to eat from elsewhere? Let me go and find out.  Well, the rest is human history as we say and it all indicates why God wants us to stay on the mark he has set for us. 

Our readings this Sunday on one level seem harsh.  Sirach speaks of God who “has set before you fire and water . . . life and death, good and evil . . .” Then Jesus in what is likely the toughest part of the New Testament uses some strong imagery as he minces no words: “whoever is angry at his brother will be liable to judgment . . . settle with your opponent quickly . . . thrown into prison . whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart . . .”  Then the clincher: “If you right eye causes you to sin, tear it out . . . if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off . . .”

Leaving no stone untouched, he turns to the marriage covenant: “whoever divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery . . .” Finally, “let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more is from the evil one.” 

Where do we go with this?  In light of today’s more tolerant and permissive culture we may find these words way off the “mark.”  Surely God is not so strict, demanding, unbending and judgmental.  Or so it seems on the surface of things.  However, we must see this great wisdom of Christ as coming from a perspective of love and mercy; of how we are to live in harmony with one another and with God. 

That harmony is marked by God’s law which is inside the circle of the mark he has set for us.  Notice here Jesus consistently speaks: “You have heard that it was said” and follows with “But I say to you . . .” You have heard and followed the law of God given to Moses and passed on to his people.  Now I come to fulfill, to flesh out that law and apply it to social relationships.  Yet, it is not a black and white application for we, because of Adam and Eve’s original choice, must work to achieve this level of goodness and perfection that staying on the mark provides for us. Yet, we know the danger of rigidity and the sad result of being too lax.  

Human weakness being what it is, Jesus counsels us about the danger of straying too far away from the center. Most of us live in the gray area of life and Jesus was well aware of that.  We know the ideal but live in the real.  The everyday distractions and challenges work very hard to lure us away from the mark and towards what may seem easier or more attractive at the moment.

But the wisdom with which Jesus teaches in our Gospel, as harsh as the imagery may seem, is good for us to know just how far we could go without his invitation to holiness and the gift of knowing what will bring us live in harmony with God and our neighbor.  That sin is a reality and leads to brokenness and a death of the spirit.  

Marriage means something for example and Jesus talk today of adultery and divorce is meant to remind us that fidelity in the marriage covenant is the better choice.  Aside from physical and moral danger, which clearly indicates that one of the spouses is deficient in their consent of marriage, it is better to live in mutual love and respect. I know of two couples in my parish both married 71 years! Yes, to the same person.  It is right and good.  

Living in peace with our brother and sister, to seek forgiveness and to reconcile differences is the meaning of God’s commandment to not kill.  For we can kill the reputation of another, we can kill the friendship we enjoy with another, we can bring great scandal to another.  Make peace first that you offered gift is truly sincere. 

Jesus has raised the moral bar high not to make it difficult but to show us the way to freedom.  All these come down to Jesus’ own summary of the law:  Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.  If we can do that, if when we stray away from the mark and come back, and not be content with mediocrity, then we can be wise disciples of the Lord.  As Sirach reminds us today:
“If you choose you can keep the commandment, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live . . .”

In the Eucharist this weekend, before you offer your "gift," make peace with anyone you may feel estranged from for any reason.  If you cannot contact them personally, then make a vow to do so as soon as possible.  Pray for them during Mass this weekend.  Then your gift at Mass will indeed be a choice for water and life.  

O God, who teach us that you abide
in hearts that are just and true, 
grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace
as to become a dwelling pleasing to you. 
through our Lord Jesus Christ, your son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Opening Collect of Mass)