Aug 21, 2017

God showed us his face

This past Monday, God showed us his face and what a stunning experience it was.  One of those "words cannot describe . . . you had to be there" events.  In this tiny corner of the vast universe, the Creator put on a show for our wonder and awe this morning and in doing so showed us his face.  The face of his beauty and mystery reflected in his grand creation.  We know well what astronomers, physicists and other scientists will say.  But, we must see this through the eyes of faith as well.

9:30 a.m.

To the gradual darkening of the surrounding environment as the moon, far closer to the earth than the sun, passed between us and that enormous ball of burning gasses which bring warmth, light, and life to this planet, we stood in the wonder of anticipation. The darkness began to descend gradually as if the sun was setting for about an hour.  We could see through safety glasses the gradual chunk of the sun, as if someone had taken a "bite from a cookie" as one child was heard to say - but then . . .

10:15 am:

As the light became significantly strange - turning colors into washed out images, and creating a new black and white photo quality around us, and the air was significantly cooler, we cast our eyes, safely covered, to the heavens for a final look at the still blinding light of a now slivered orange sun.  We knew the time was very near - as phone apps and our watches ticked away the minutes and seconds, and the countdown began.  

10:18 a.m.

Then suddenly a significant darkness covered us like a silent wave as we stood in the dark shadow of the moon. The last shining "diamond" of the sun was extinguished and the shimmering white corona of the sun burst forth! I mean literally blast open around the now black sun and shone magnificently for two awe struck minutes.  

Meanwhile, there was no silence but rather cheers and cries:  "Here it comes - here it comes - O my God, my God!  Look at that!  Awesome!  Beautiful! It's so dark!  Look at the stars!  O my God!" Many of us looked around and experienced the sudden transformation of nature but at the same time never really wanted to take our eyes off that beautiful black disk with shining white light surrounding it like a halo of glory. Glasses were off and with the naked eye could behold this truth uncovered. 

10:20 a.m.  

And then suddenly, as if you were standing in a darkened movie theater - a blinding white light was instantly flipped on- the stunning glare of the sun reappeared at the point where coverage began and one could even feel the warmth returning rather quickly as that light hit the earth.  More cheers and claps - "Awesome!  My God what a wonder!"  

This was our experience of seeing the face of God last Monday here in this part of Oregon as the total solar eclipse appeared on cue.  As we gathered with a good group of  families, general parishioners and visitors who came from California, New Jersey, Alaska  who just showed up to share morning coffee, breads, donuts, and fellowship.  My words are not exaggerations of those that were said - I quote myself and those around me.  

In the beauty and wonder of creation - we saw the face of God and recognized how small we are when at that moment, nothing mattered except to wonder at the face of God and to be humbled by how much we are loved.  

I hope you had if not the same - something similar.  I can fully understand why some folks chase this wonder around the world.  When it was over - I felt sad that God while always present to us, went back into hiding.  But, faith assures us where two or three are gathered in his name, as we were today - there he is in our midst.  

Earlier this week, for a brief two minutes, we saw him.  

Aug 19, 2017

20th Sunday - "All is gift"

(Harold Copping: The Woman of Canaan)

"Woman, great is your faith."

Is 56: 1, 6-7
Rm 11: 13-15, 29-32
Mt 15: 21-28

This Monday, across the United States, we will experience a wonder of nature, a total eclipse of the sun. Some parts will have only a partial but here locally we stand at ground zero where the first shadow of the moon will touch land in this Country. 

As amazing as it will be, we have nothing to do with the movement of the planets, the moon, the bright blinding light of the sun, the changes of seasons and the passage of time, are all beyond our reach. So that eclipse, from all that is told, will be a wonder of nature. The air, the sky, the sun and moon will all for our pleasure and spectacle put on quite a show.  God’s natural beauty will be strange and at the same time remind us how small we are.  What did we do to deserve that?  Nothing.  It’s all there for us to enjoy – a grand show in the sky; a gift of God’s wondrous creation.

In the same way, our faith reminds us that that we had nothing to do with God’s choice to intervene in human history 2,000 years ago and enter this world as a human being to be born in space and time of a human mother. He told us he would come.  The prophets of Israel spoke of this and even earlier there are allusions to it in Biblical text. In Jesus we recognize God’s free choice to rescue us from sin and death.  What did we do to deserve that?  Nothing.  In fact, we deserve much less. It’s all gift and grace. God took pity on us and rather than destroy – he saved us out of love.  

So, in essence our religion is one based on God’s love and generosity towards us.  We call that grace and we did nothing to deserve or earn it.  No matter how virtuous we might become or how seriously we take our faith, we will never equal what God has done for us – out of love and grace.

That being said, our Gospel is indeed a beautiful support of this truth.  Jesus travels north to what is now modern day Lebanon, the region of ancient Tyre and Sidon, crossing for some unknown reason, into Gentile territory and that land of the Canaanites, original enemies of the Jewish people.  It is not surprising from that cultural viewpoint that these non-Jews and former enemies were treated with hostility by the Jewish people and referred to as “dogs.” Matthew just relates that “Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.”  His first disciples were with him.

Along the way, a persistent Canaanite woman cried out after Jesus with a respectful but desperate plea: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” It sounds so similar to other requests for healings that he encountered in his ministry in Israel among his fellow Jews.  So, of course our Lord will respond – or not.
He responded with silence.  Out of character it seems.  But she had clearly reached a level of bothersome – “Jesus disciples . . . asked him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.’”

As the disciples bought in to the prejudice against these gentiles, they insist Jesus does the same and simply dismiss her.  Then, it seems at least at first that he does.  He reminds her: “It is not right to take the food of the children (Jews) and throw it to the dogs.” A startling response as Jesus acknowledges that his mission is first to “the lost sheep of Israel.”

Yet, she is not diminished and continues to play on the cultural “dog comment” and displays great trust in the person of Jesus and what she believes he can do.  Our Lord looks then beyond the barrier built by this early form of racism and responds to her great faith: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Here we see once again that while Jesus first mission was to his own people, God used them as a means to reach out beyond that one race of people to extend the mercy of God to all humanity.  Considering everything, this woman did not deserve what she received and Jesus could have just kept on walking by without question from others. Yet, in Christ we see that God is blind to race and false divisions we have developed.

Here, we are reminded forcefully that the power of compassion and mercy is greater than a limited prejudice.  That in the mind of God all are equal and all will share in his unmerited grace.  All this desperate woman did was cry out with trust in Jesus not only for who she recognized him to be but more she believed in him as the “Son of David” – the Messiah, the hope for humanity.  Her faith was expressed in the same way that Peter, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, the blind man who was healed and others who experienced God’s mercy through faith in his Son. 

All of this certainly is timely for us as our Country once again is faced with the ugly dark spirit of racism.  Organized groups based on hate are deeply disturbing and the only action they envision is violence and division which certainly reminds us that the Evil one is alive and well.  History has offered us dark reminders of this evil in the Nazis, Communists, KKK, and all present day active hate groups stirring up the unity and peace among people.  Abraham Lincoln once expressed the belief that the Civil War was God’s punishment on this Nation for the evils of slavery.  He may indeed have been right.

There is nothing more contrary to the spirit of the Christian Gospel and our own sense of human nature than the sin of racism.  To believe that certain groups or races of people are inferior to others is a direct denial of the Biblical story of creation, our lived experience of human interaction everywhere, and something that denies the very ministry of Jesus who expressed the heart of God that all come together as one human family, children of the same creator God. 

So, we are offered grace – all of us.  Yet, so often we either take it all for granted or may, perhaps unconsciously, feel that I deserve it and you do not.  After all I’ve been like the “good son” in the story of the prodigal son (Lk 15: 11 – 32) doing all my Father expected of me. 

Yet, we see there, as in the story of this graced woman in the Gospel this Sunday that God wishes all to receive his call to conversion and our call to faith in his person which brings renewal and a new way of life.  We can only speculate how this woman was changed by having her persistent prayer fulfilled and by doing so experienced the abundant mercy of God extended to all who seek it through faith in Christ Jesus.

There is a special line in the third Eucharistic Prayer which states: “Listen graciously to the prayers of this family . . . in your compassion, O Merciful Father, gather to yourself all your children scattered throughout the world.”

Our hope during each Mass is that all become one in a mutual bond of fellowship. We have a long way to go on that but we must make it happen according to our abilities.

Let us put aside the ugly head of prejudice and false categories that we may place people in to.  It is not the mind of God and can never be ours as well. 

Lord Jesus Christ,
who reached across the ethnic boundaries
between Samaritan, Roman, and Jew,
who offered a fresh sight to the blind
and freedom to captives,
help us to break down the barriers in our community.
Enable us to see the reality of racism and bigotry,
and free us to challenge and uproot it
from ourselves, our society, and our world.

(Fr. John Bucki, SJ Education for Justice)

Aug 12, 2017

19th Sunday - "Is it too much to ask?"

"Lord . . . command me to come to you.  He said, "Come"

1 Kgs 19: , 11-13a
Rm 9: 1-5
Mt 14: 22-33

Today’s readings seem to be a combination of both turmoil and peace.  On the one hand, we see the prophet Elijah standing on the mountain listening for God in the midst of violent natural forces:  strong and heavy rock crushing wind, an earthquake, a roaring fire – but God is not in any of those.  He whispers in Elijah’s ear a soft sound and the prophet covers his face in respect.

Peter and the disciples are caught in a fishing boat, a familiar place for them, in the midst of a strong and driving wind frightened for their lives with no protection – and Jesus comes walking silently and calmly on the turbulent waters in the darkest time of night, then invites Peter to simply “come” to him on the water.  Despite Peter’s failed attempt, Jesus gets in the boat and the wind dies down.  “It is I, do not be afraid.”

It strikes me these are powerful images which test both our faith and our preconceptions of God.  They can also be reminders to have confidence in the midst of turbulent times in which we recognize our fears and insecurities.  For Matthew, the boat is symbolic of the Church.  To know what the early Christian communities of the first century endured, and how those committed early believers found their faith tested, it’s not surprising this storm on the sea is used to symbolize the fears of the Christian’s in the first century. Threatened by the pagan powers of Rome and the inclusion of Gentile diversity, along with the martyrdom of both the Apostles and many early believers themselves, it is no wonder they cried out for assurance and found their faith in God tested as to who Jesus really is. 

Today we may feel the storms are far more sophisticated.  We understand the laws of nature; summer storms which leave significant destruction are not unfamiliar.  The powers of nature are not particularly mysterious anymore as scientists can determine so much about what nature will do and when it will happen. Next week we are told a total eclipse of the sun will take place right over this country and they have it down to date, time, place, and duration.  Imagine for a moment what sort of calculation needs to be done to determine all of that. And the point is, they are right. 

We are warned ahead of time to prepare and take cover when a storm is approaching, to move to higher ground, to plan ahead should that day come. Rescue efforts come in to play rather quickly and relief is brought to ease the suffering and rebuild lives. 

So, while it seems that Elijah and the frightened disciples in the boat were helpless victims of natural forces, still these stories hold a deeper reminder for us.  Essentially, these are not extreme weather reports but rather stories of faith.  Wind and fire, waves tossing into boats as the fishermen try to bail out the water before they sink and is not really the point of the story.  The tiny whispering sound in Elijah’s ear and Jesus’ own calm and silent unexpected display of divine power over his own creation is the key to recognize our own lack of faith.

 Jesus calls out to his panicked group:  “Get hold of yourselves.  It is I; do not be afraid.” We often cry out to God in times of desperation. When all else fails, we turn to the Lord for a solution.  If not that, at least the strength to get through whatever is causing us to be concerned.  That’s a good thing. 

But, was it too much for Jesus to simply say to Peter – “Come” – as Peter really said to Jesus, “I want to be like you!”  “I want to walk on the water as well.”  “If you can do it, so will I.” Pretty bold of Peter when you think of it.  Considering the darkness of the 3 am hour, the violent wind and the rolling waves, it’s no wonder the disciples thought this vision of a man walking on the water towards them was indeed some ghostly apparition.  If the storm wasn’t bad enough, here comes some fearful spirit to really do us in!

But aren’t we glad that Peter did give in to his fears in a way because he certainly can represent humanity in general.  The call to faith is a call to trust.  Yet, is it too much to ask that we really let go and lay all things before God?  Is it too much to expect that our Lord really is with us in moments that we may find especially trying: the sudden loss of a loved one; the separation of divorce, bad news from the doctor, the loss of a job for no clear reason, a son or daughter who decides to leave the Church all together and marry in a ski lodge or a park, a desperately alcoholic husband or wife who simply lives in constant denial while the innocent suffer in the family. 

While these may be somewhat extreme they are not at all rare.  Where is my faith?  Am I just a fair weather Christian or can I also hear Jesus saying to me – “Come.”  It might have been easy for Elijah to give up and say:  “Wind?  Fire? Earthquake and no God?”  Time to leave this mountain.” Or maybe for Jesus to have ignored Peter’s irrational request and simply enter the boat by himself.  Peter, you can’t walk on a lake!

But, we see in both examples a reminder that while God never abandons us, we must also be searching for him. Peter’s desire to do what Jesus was doing is really the very desire we must have ourselves. 

While none of us would insanely jump off a cliff or step out of a boat in the middle of the Ocean, (God can’t fix stupid!) what Peter desired was to be more like Christ.  To grow in his likeness; to have hope the words of Jesus are indeed life changing. To learn from his example and turn my life in a new direction to embrace the good news Jesus spoke of and to live by trust and the conviction of my faith. So maybe what we consider to be just too much to ask is really where we need to go.

To those who desperately cried out to our Lord to defy the laws of nature and instantly be healed or to heal another, because of their faith, Jesus did so out of love and compassion.  He stood by them in the midst of their desperation and responded to their trust of him. 

So, let’s walk on water – it’s not too much to expect.  Hold on to that hope that the Lord stands by us in the midst of the toughest times.  Jesus hoped Peter would indeed walk towards him with all confidence.  To walk towards the Lord as he walks towards us. I find that both beautiful and a reminder to me that I am weak.  “Peter, keep walking – keep looking at me. Don’t look away!”

We can be bold in our faith and have the courage of our convictions when others may feel we are simply uninformed or “old school” or “out of touch.”  We can lay before the Lord our fears and pray with confidence even when we doubt.  We don’t ever have to apologize for being Catholic and for following the teachings of our faith no matter how unpopular they may be.  We can attend Mass each weekend despite even our neighbors or family who may consider us excessively religious.  We can see not just the sins of the Church but the heroic virtues and good works done in the name of the Gospel.

We can walk on all kinds of water if we only trust and pray even when we doubt.  “Keep your eyes on me.” It’s not too much to ask.   “Come” Jesus says – “Follow me.”   

Almighty ever-living God, 
whom, taught by the Holy Spirit, 
we dare to call our Father, 
bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts
the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters,
that we may merit to enter into the inheritance
which you have promised. 
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)

Aug 9, 2017

Pray for Peace

There is no doubt that tensions in the world generally seem to have ratcheted up more than a few notches this past week.  What can I do as an individual?  Well, we aren't going to recreate the
Garden of Eden.  Sin and evil will be with us until Christ comes again, when all evil is ultimately destroyed and the sources of evil along with them.

In the mean time, we must pray.  We must pray for all world leaders, our President, and for the safety of people everywhere.  If nothing begins with prayer, then we are indeed lost.  We must turn our hearts and minds to God as we "storm heaven" that cooler heads will prevail and the power of good will overcome evil.  Yet, how many despots and dictators can the world handle?  We wish no harm to innocent people and we pray for conversion among the darkness and for those who have given themselves to the power of darkness.

As always, we must begin with ourselves, I think,.  I pray for my personal conversion of life and that the road of non-violence and dialogue will be taken by reasonable leaders.  For those who see no other way, or are so beyond rational behavior and thought themselves, then we must pray for evil to be contained and ended.

So, pray the Rosary for peace, for example.  In numerous apparitions, approved by the Church, our Lady has requested prayers for peace.  The Rosary is a model place to begin.  In addition to that, certainly offering Mass when you attend it for peace, make personal sacrifices for the cause of peace, and prayer for our enemies must be done as Jesus himself has shown us.

Let it all begin with prayer but may it all continue in peaceful actions.

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for our world

O God Creator of the world, 
under whose governance 
the design for all the ages unfolds, 
be attentive, we pray, to our petitions
and grant to our times tranquility and peace, 
that we may exult with unceasing joy
in praise of your great mercy. 

(From: Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice)