Nov 17, 2018

33rd Sunday - The promise of Hope

(Michelangelo - Sistine Chapel)

"He will send out the angels and gather his elect"

Mark 13: 24-32

For the early Christians, the book of Daniel, from where our first reading today is taken, was extremely important.  It helped them to understand the person of Jesus and how he was indeed the fulfillment of the Daniel prophecies in the coming of the kingdom of God. Daniel is part of apocalyptic literature – which means literally, a “revelation” or “pulling back of the veil” which reveals something unknown before. God has revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus the Christ and made his love and mercy known.

We hear at this time of the Church year – assurance and hope about the future.  Ultimately, God is in control and will triumph in the end. In fact, in Jesus and the good news of the Gospel, that triumph is already underway. History indicates that the world has seen the rise and the fall of many earthly kingdoms but the kingdom of God endures. That is certain if we take the Biblical prophecies as truth. As Daniel tell us: "But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever." (12: 3)

Science has provided another certainty: what concerns the inevitable end of the universe.  It is something we rarely worry ourselves about yet science tells us that approximately five billion years from now the sun will expand and take with it this earth and all the planets. What began at the moment of creation as the “big bang” will become at the end the “big crunch.” Nothing of this world lasts forever, including us of course. Now at nearly the end of our liturgical year we hear, as in our Gospel, the words of Jesus: “. . . the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky,”(Mk 13: 24-25),  so we can’t help but think in terms of what our scientists tell us is inevitable. Some faith traditions claim it may be according to nature’s changes – but scientists and our personal experience know that nature always changes.

But, we might ask “Who wants to live in constant fear?”  Jesus does not desire that angst for us.  Life is about living after all. Jesus came to bring joy and reassurance of God’s forgiveness and mercy as he invites us to relationship with himself, the Father and the Spirit in spite of what cards we may be dealt. So where do we Christians stand in the face of things that are finite? Daily, with hope and optimism.
Yet, it’s tough for us in these “politically correct, open tolerance, alternate lifestyle, and subjective moral days” to digest the truth of the scriptures. Yet, rather than imagine a kind of end times destruction, the words are written to give us hope not just in to the future but to offer us that hope in the here and the now.  And as to those end times, we take heart in Jesus’ own words: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in
heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mk 13: 32).

In the end this week’s readings assure us that in the ultimate end of all things Christ  will be recognized as Lord of all history.  But the best part of this end times imagery is that Christ remains among us now.  As a people of future hope and reassurance, we are also people of present day optimism.  The truth revealed to us is that God has claimed creation as his own and in Christ nature itself responds in a new order to ultimate redemption. In his Church, humanly weak and in need of reform but divinely perfect and in the constant mission of the Church and the Gospel proclaimed we reveal this truth for the world for every generation.

So, as a Christian people we don’t lose heart.  Our faith should be stronger and we, as Jesus reminds us, still have work to do: “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place . . .” (Mk 13: 31). So, the mission of the Church and as members ours as well, is to gather others to Christ, to not lose hope in his promise, to participate and to do more than just show up, to know and serve the Lord.  It’s not just words or fantasy or fright.  It is rock solid hope in Christ who has conquered death and whose words can be trusted as truth. He has won the final battle before it has even begun. As the words of the Third Eucharistic prayer say: “In your compassion, O merciful Father, gather to yourself all your children scattered throughout the world.” That all may be gathered in to welcome the Lord.   

As we enter into the mystery of the Eucharist, let’s take heart to know that who we receive, this food for our journey through life and the power of his Word to bring all to himself.  Our Lord will come when he is sent by the Father so may he not find us unprepared and ready to welcome him now and in the future.

Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God,
the constant gladness of being devoted to you,
for it is full and lasting happiness
to serve with constancy
the author of all that is good.
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.

(Collect of Sunday)

Nov 11, 2018

Pray for the Shepherds

American Bishops to meet:

It goes without saying that the annual meeting of our American Bishops, beginning tomorrow in Baltimore, is likely one of the most crucial ever.  Regardless of how we may feel about reports of past and present failures in handling the abuse crisis, and our anger and hurt is indeed justified, as a Catholic people we must remain united in compassion for victims, in a constructive search for solutions, and in solidarity with our Bishops as leaders of our faith communities.  

At the present moment the Church has done a great deal of soul searching and concrete process of investigation and preparation of seminary candidates for future ministry.  One of the things that may be lacking is to bring the information to the faithful as to just exactly how much has already been done, the success rate which has been great, and the present attitude of  those men in seminary formation who see themselves as part of the solution.  In the end, we all must work together.  We are a family and when one part of a family is in crisis, out of love and mutual respect, we all join together to seek constructive solutions for the common good of all.  Jesus prayed for unity among believers, all those who would be his disciples, and that is of course everyone of us.  

Yes, our Bishops must be responsible for their leadership.  There's no question about that.  They must be held to the same standard of conduct that is expected of all the clergy.  If resignation is the only solution, then so be it.  The Church will continue.  It is not our Church but Christ's.  But the wounded humanity must be healed but to remain angry simply for its own sake is no solution.  

I recently had one parishioner, a good and well meaning person, who's solution to the "problem" and suggestions for reform were extreme to say the least.  Their solution was essentially the complete dismanteling of the entire Catholic tradition and structure.  The upending of sacramental theology in favor of social and popular solutions:  "All Bishops resign.  Deacons and priests never speak about marriage since "they don't know what they're talking about." Ordain women as priests and bishops.  The Church has never listened to women in 2,000 years," etc etc.  Such extreme vision is not helpful at all to the solution but counter intuitive and in the end destructive.   

Nonetheless, we must work and pray as ministers in Christ's Church. We're all in the same boat on the same Ocean.  May the Holy Spirit guide us all to open minds, humble spirits, supportive and constructive solutions, and in the end may Charity be our guiding force.  Peace.   

Nov 9, 2018

32nd Sunday: "To give from our need"

"This poor widow put in more than all . . ."

Mark 12: 38-44

Christian writer C.S. Lewis begins his essay entitled “Let’s pretend” with a short example about a man who wore a mask.

He tells of an unattractive man who wore a more attractive mask for many years. He dressed up as another person in a sense.  After a long period of time, he one day took off the mask and noticed that his face had conformed to the shape of the more attractive mask and he was changed into something he only could hope to become.  Would that it was all that easy!

But the point Lewis makes is that we, as followers of Christ, are called to a new form; a new image and a significant change to be more like Christ himself, the Son of God and the perfect human being.  The beast in us must be tamed and the ugliness of sin replaced by the more beautiful. While the change is not meant to be physical, it is meant to be one of character and holiness in our Christian life.  The best way to do this, Lewis writes, is to imitate Jesus; to pretend to be like him not in an arrogant way, but through humility, love and generosity. In a sense to put on his mask and allow it to become our identity.

We can learn from Christ and through constant imitation, even if it feels like pretending to be something we are not, over time we become what we imitate.  It is somewhat like learning to overcome a bad habit.  The more I replace bad behavior with good, the more over time I will learn a new way and overcome what has been holding me back. Through God’s grace all things are possible.

There is probably no better behavior than to imitate the love and generosity of God.  The ultimate example of this we hear in our second reading today from Hebrews.  Christ came to “take away sin once for all.”  The outpouring of Jesus’ life in his death and resurrection offers us the ultimate example of generosity.  Something we should daily imitate and trust that God will change us. 

The further example of the two widows in the first reading from Kings and the Gospel of Mark, may offer us a real life example.  The first widow is visited by the prophet Elijah who asks her for food after a long journey.  The problem is, she has nearly nothing and is found gathering bare existence for herself and her son.  Still, the prophet insists, which seems a little insensitive, but he assures her that God will provide if she acts in faith.  Indeed she does and she and her son have enough food for a year’s supply. She trusted in the prophet’s word and she was rewarded for that trust. In a further sense both the prophet and the widow were blessed as both were relieved from hunger.

The second widow is the familiar story of the “widow’s mite.”  By contrast Jesus notes the very wealthy, who probably offered only what was required for the Temple treasury, leave little to impress Jesus.  Their giving is hardly sacrificial but offered in order to continue the illusion of generosity and righteousness.

So the very poor widow with barely an existence pours in the little she has: “Her whole livelihood,” as Jesus states.  Her generosity was marked by sacrifice and trust for her faith assured her, like the widow in our first reading that God would provide for those who do good.

So, there is a basic lesson here in generosity; in how and why we give.  The “law of the gift” as stated by Pope St. John Paul II reminds us that this is simply the way God has designed us and in some way maybe even nature itself.  The more that is given away, the more returns.  In order for life to continue, for example, some of life must be given away and that produces more life.

In the case of the widows, and ourselves here, we recognize our call to imitate, to become more like Christ.  To give away ourselves is not foolish.  For in doing so, we receive back so much more.  Whether it’s sharing of time, our treasure, our knowledge, our energy, our support and love towards others we find that it all comes back to us hundredfold.  The two widows acted in faith despite having so little.  

Like C.S. Lewis’ example of the man who wore the mask, when we put on the beauty of Christ, the values of the Gospel, we over time become what we first pretend to be and later are.  To imitate the kindness of God by generously offering ourselves not for public recognition but as an act of faith in God’s care for us, we become more attractive to God himself.  God favors the humble and trusting ones.  Those on the margin, the humble and trusting who have no pretense are blessed indeed - the “poor in spirit.”

It’s so fundamental to how we must live as Christians that to not be this way, we might say, is to no longer truly be a disciple of the Lord.  Self-centeredness and greed fly in the face of the Christian Gospel. Our celebration of the Eucharist is all about giving thanks and about allowing ourselves to be fed both in Word and Sacrament to become who we hear and feed upon.

Put on that mask of Christ.  Follow his word, act in trust, and God will change us to become more like who we imitate.

Almighty and merciful God,
graciously keep from us all adversity,
so that, unhindered in mind and body alike,
we may pursue in freedom of heart
the things that are yours.
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.

(Collect of Mass)

Nov 6, 2018

A Prayer for the Common Good

On this mid-term election day, let's remember that God always calls us to consider and to embrace the higher moral good of all.  As Jesus invites us to missionary discipleship, he calls us to seek the good of all we serve and not to be blinded by our prejudices, personal agendas, political opinions but to be wise to consider, in the end, what is best for all.  Humility, compromise, selflessness, and charity should always be what we pursue, even when it means that we may not get completely what we want - or think we deserve.

The prayer below should be offered not only for our Nation but also for our Church in this time of reform and healing for those who feel estranged, abused, forgotten.  The price to pay is too high and too risky to take the lower road. May the Holy Spirit and our service in the kingdom of God be a force of strength and guidance that all may seek unity above division, love above resentment, peace above violence, forgiveness in the midst of hatred, what is best for all above politics, and God ultimately above all things.

Prayer for the Common Good

 O God, you have given all people

one common origin and desire

to gather them into one family for yourself.

Fill our hearts with the fire of your love

and kindle in us a desire

to ensure the common good

for all our sisters and brothers.

By sharing with one another,

may we secure justice for all people,

an end to division and a society

built upon justice, love and peace.

Through Christ our Lord.