Sunday, January 4, 2015

4th Sunday of Advent


"It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep, for our salvation is closer than when we first came to believe "  St Paul told the Romans

 

NOW is the hour - for salvation is closer than you think - this is the spirit of Advent.

There is a tension in Advent between waiting, alert and joyful and our journeying in confidant trust towards the Lord's second coming.

 

At Advent we look backward at the joy of the nativity when God becomes man - humble and gentle - born of a virgin and we look forward to our Lord's coming again in majesty and glory to judge the living and the dead.

 

Throughout These last couple of weeks we have been called, reminded and prodded by the Spirit of Advent; the first Sunday of Advent, was a wake up to the call to God' judgement that will come, the 2nd Sunday we were called to live authentic lives and to make the crooked straight within ourselves and in those we touch in preparation of the coming of the Lord,

and last week there was the joyful confession in he who is coming to baptize not with water for the repentance of sin, but with the Holy Spirit to bring about new life of faith.

And today we are reminded that nothing is impossible for God and we are shown the model of humility and trust in Mary's surrendering to the impossible in her yes to God.  Advent isn't just another passing season.

 

In the first reading king David thought he had a plausible plan.

- to build an appropriate house ( a temple) for God.

This was a good and noble plan but it wasn't God's plan.

God's plan was bigger and grander than anything King David could even imagine.

What would be impossible for David to build in stone was surly possible for God to create in the womb of a virgin.

God, through Nathan the prophet, reminded David that he began his life a shepherd  of his father's flock.

God tells David not to bother with building him a house (for who can house God?).

Build your people up instead, love them and care for them as a good shepherd of my flock.

Do this and your kingdom will last for ever.

David's kingdom, a sign of God's kingdom, will last beyond brick and mortar, for it is never what we build of stone that lasts.

We know that David's historical undivided kingdom did not last beyond his grandson.

The kingdom God speaks of crosses the boundaries of time and place and extends to the ends of the earth as well as the end of time itself.

 

In the second reading Paul describes the extent of this new impossible kingdom as "being made known to all nations" and it will be achieved only - through faith in, him who can strengthen you, Jesus Christ.

 

In today's gospel reading we see how God will go about this grand enterprise of salvation.

God's messenger the glorious and sublime angel Gabriel reveals to a young, betrothed virgin, the shape of the plan. It is a story of angelic majesty meeting human humility.

"Hail, full of Grace" is Gabriel's  greeting to Mary. Clearly, she is already blessed by her chosen-ness, her immaculate conception and sinless life and she will be further blessed by what is to come.

"The Lord is with you"  emphasis that Mary has been chosen to be the Lord's instrument and his bearer.

Now this is all too much, to overwhelming for a young girl to get her head around.

"Do not be afraid" Gabriel comforts a uneasy Mary.

 This is a promise that only goodness, beyond understanding, comes from the Lord.

Gabriel goes on to reveal to Mary the impossible future.

You (he tells her) will be the mother of the redeemed and the redeemer!

You will conceive a child - Emmanuel (God with us). You will call him Jesus,

 

But the world (some day) will call him Son of God and he will rule over God's kingdom  comprising of all nations in faith and he will rule this kingdom forever.

The shear force and magnitude of this revelation must of weighed  heavily on Mary

 and she asks Gabriel how this can be.

Gabriel says - God will do this, for nothing is impossible for God.

He will do this through the Holy Spirit who will overshadow you. Which means the Holy Spirit will consume completely and changes her and we must remember that Mary was overshadowed not just at divine conception, but for her whole life. Through all the joys, the anxieties, even through suffering and sorrow Mary was always full of God's overshadowing Grace, which is fully realized at her assumption into heaven.

 

Mary's response to the impossible, changed the world and inspires us down to our very day by its humble and trusting acceptance of God's will.

 "May it be done according to your word", she tells Gabriel.

This acceptance doesn't come from understanding or reason.

Mary hasn't figured it out. She doesn't get it.  She surrenders to the unreasonable, the mystery of God.  This is her faith, a  simple (but profound) trust in God.

And this is the mystery of Advent, nothing is impossible for God, not in Mary's life or in our own.

We must hold on to this Spirit of - openness to mystery -  to something bigger then ourselves.

Too often we look for God with our own ideas about what that means, our own images and assumptions about Him and so in the end - we only find ourselves.

We meet the reasonable, the expected, the humanly possible, but never the Devine impossible.

But, Our Blessed Mother (without preconceived ideas) was open to encounter the overshadowing mystery that is God. She was open to embracing the impossible.

And She would wait for it to unfold in hopeful and joyful expectation.

 

Advent reminds us of this.

What we wait for should determine how we wait.

What we journey towards should govern our effort to get there.

Our lives, forever changed by the incarnation, should mirror our faith in Jesus the Christ.

God breaking into our world was not impossible.

God's coming kingdom fulfilled is not impossible.

Living in the Spirit now - as Christ bearers - is not impossible.

Eternal life through Jesus is not impossible.

Advent is a time, that as Christian believers we wait, alert and joyful.

And we journey forward, as one people, in faith, hope and love.

We look back to the incarnation with its sweet tenderness that pierces our hearts

and we look forward to his coming kingdom.

Advent, always and everywhere rings out

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

 

 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

God dwells here, Dedication of the Lateran Basilica


There is an ancient, millennial old, question - Where does God dwell? And there is a newer, but linked question - What is the Church?

Ezekiel , the first prophet to prophesy outside of Israel to those in exile, describes in a vision, the new temple where those with a new heart and a new spirit will worship -

"The angel brought me to the entrance of the temple and I saw watering flow out" he says.

This new temple is not static, rigid and inert, rather it flows to renew, sustain and sanctify life

Ezekiel continues to describe the inclusive scope of the new temple 

every sort of creature will be found there and on the banks of this river (this flood of grace) every kind of fruit tree shall grow. Their fruit shall be food (because it will ease hunger) and their leaves shall be medicine" (because it will ease suffering).

This new temple is not some place to go to (and passively sit). It is a force of Grace and Blessing that is active in transforming the world.

St Paul bluntly tells the Corinthians. - "You are God's building".

In the second reading he describes that he has laid the foundation of faith, the living temple, not with brick and mortar, but according to the Grace he has received, which is Jesus Christ.

In his faith Paul laid the groundwork, which others, in their faith will build upon.

This living church is alive and evolving, it is not stone but flesh, it is not courtyards but community, it is not architecture it is the Body of Christ.

This is where the Spirit dwells, this is where God is present and is where holiness pours forth like some magnificent river sweeping aside all injustice.

Both Ezekiel and St Paul have a vision that God's house that is not a building.

 It is not someplace, but is every place where Spirit and Truth abound.

Jesus knew this.  In fact, Jesus is the new temple.

In Johns Gospel we hear that the Passover was at hand and Jesus did what all good Jews should do, he went up to Jerusalem. Specifically to worship at the temple - his father's house.

 He found, in the courtyard of the temple, a day like any other day, business as usual.

Money changers changed Roman coin to temple coin appropriate for offering and sellers of sacrificial animals advertised their product hoping to turn a decent profit.

Jesus sets this all on its head and he creates quite a rumpus, by his forceful actions.

This is the house of my Father, he yells, not a marketplace.

His words echoes Ezekiels own words "there shall no longer be traders and sellers in the house of the lord"

Jesus is simply reclaiming the house of God.

And this leads to anger from those who profit (not just monetarily) from the status quo.

 Jesus, whose very existence disrupts unjust power.  He confronted it directly until it became a life and death struggle with the authorities.

They cry out - what gives You the right to do what you do? They want to know in whose name is he acting ?

They want proof, some sort of evidence.

"What sign can you give us" they demand.

Jesus responds, (in spades)

"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up"

This is insane they think. Here is a madman. No one has that kind of power.

Of course, they think he is talking about the temple complex, the concrete and marble place, in which they now stood - an edifice of power that had become a prison for God and a marketplace to profit from his imprisonment.

There was no further argument recorded, but you can imagine the bewilderment and anger that followed that encounter.

 Instead, the narrator simply adds (showing us exactly what kind of power Jesus has) -

"he was speaking of his body"

 

A body, made holy by a holy life, that after his resurrection becomes glorified as the Body of Christ - the risen and ascended Jesus along with all those who believe in him and are baptized, in the Spirit, into his death and resurrection and who will join him to become one body.

This is where God dwells in freedom and truth and where he can never be imprisoned, not even by death.

"Destroy this temple (of flesh and spirit) and see it rise (in glory) on the third day"

Later the disciples, in the Spirit they had received, remembered the temple incident and Jesus words and his raising on the third day - and they believed. They became the Church.

Today, Mother Church has many names, but pride of place belongs to - the People of God,

who through their individual encounter with the Lord respond to the Lord's own desire that we have  " a loving heart and knowledge of his ways".

You and I, here and now, as Church, humbly and generously help each other as we all stubble forward "climbing the Lord's mountain so that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths." 

This is the living Church reaching out to bring sanctifying light to every dark corner.

And this Church, Gods house, is always identified with justice and mercy, love and hope not with power and profit margin.

The living Church is identified as Gods presence flowing from its members as kindness and generosity, patience and humility, as loving service to all those in need wither that be within the family, the parish, or community.

The ecological slogan think globally and act locally" takes on an expanded and sanctifying meaning within the community of believers as acts of charity and stewardship.

Ezekiel, Jesus and St Paul, all remind us that the living temple (where a God dwells) should not be profaned or lessened by routine and habit.  We cannot reduce our faith to a specific building or a specific time and day. The Lords Day, is every day.

And must remember that the sacramental life of the Church, is never "old hat", never routine, it is always new, precious and nourishing and is always Gods grace flowing out as a river.

And we, the People of God, must not let the Church within us, the Spirit dwelling within, to be dulled, made indifferent, trivial and cheap by self-centeredness, routine participation and thoughtless living.

By our selfishness, indifference and thoughtlessness we become like those on the steps of the temple doing everything else, but worshiping (and living) in truth and love.

But that is not who we are.

When the world asks us - where is your Church we can simply say - here!

When the world asks where does God dwell we can answer by its negative where doesnt God dwell?
  But, to show the world where God dwells is to show them the quality of our love

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Feast of the Lord, 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time


God is abundance.  So gracious and overflowing in all goodness that we can only call it love;  creative love, sustaining love, and saving love.

In all his fullness, God and his kingdom is beyond our understanding or even full appreciation.

And we can never describe it adequately, it is always more, greater in every aspect.

Certainly greater than of my words or any words for the Word of God was before all, is all, and in the fullness of time be all.

Because of our human condition, Isaiah calls it a veil over the nations, we have distanced ourselves from God, we are out of touch with the devine, out of right relationship with God, who loves us, and we are unable (at least in this life) to fully know Him.

We have only our limited minds, imaginations and inadequate words to talk about God and our experience with Him.

Jesus knew this, though he knew God, and so he used parables, to help us understand the truth.

How often did he use the phrase "the kingdom of God is like"

 The Kingdom of God is like a great Kings wedding banquet.

In the first reading Isaiah gives us a hint of Gods feast.  He tells Israel that on the Lord's mountain (where God dwells and rules as king) there will be for all people a feast of rich food and choice wines, not only rich and choice, but juicy and pure. It is better than the best.

And this pure and choice feast will be the wiping away tears, ending oppression and destroying death. It certainly includes; protecting all human life, giving priority to the poor and vulnerable, It will insure peace for all peoples.

God's great feast is also inclusive as he gathers all people together and together (as one) they will rejoice and be glad for God has kept his saving promise.

And this rejoicing and gladness at the banquet table sounds like the responsaorial psalm

"The Lord is my Shepard I shall not want . . . You spread your table before me"

We shall not want, we shall have our fill, (in Christ) for Gods abundant grace is life giving and life renewing and enlivens our human nature to reach beyond its limitations.

 St Paul says

"I can do all things in him who strengthens me"

Not some things or the things I am good at or things I think are important or worthy,

God strengthens all things undertaken for his glory and the good of others.

God's grace reaches out to all who reach out to him and He is always generous and merciful .

 "My God Paul says will fully supply whatever you need"

So we have God who is generous beyond measure and his kingdom which is likened to a wedding banquet full of good and choice things, yet we know many turn their back to God's invitation?  Many who do not think the offer is good enough?

Not good enough to give up grasping worldliness, self-centered concerns, and rivalries, not worth the sacrifices it's obtaining might entail.

We know still others who believe God is a fanciful lie, a children's story that no adult could base a life on. This is human folly and the question we hear throughout scripture and most directly in Jesus' parables is "why would you not want to be at God's wedding banquet"?

So back to the parable.

 The king sends out his servants (twice) to invite the lucky guests to the great wedding feast.

Some ignored the King's requests; some had more important things to do, some thought their time was more precious than the Kings.

The Kings servants doing the kings bidding were abused and seriously mistreated. 

We heard last week that the owner of the vineyard (another likeness to the kingdom of God) sent his son, to bring about justice - they killed him instead.

Sounds familiar doesn't it.

The hard hearted and prideful turned their backs to their rightful king.

In just anger the king declares

"The feast is ready, but those invited are not worthy to come. Go out, therefore and invite  whomever you find"

Go out to the darkest corners of the city, go to the forgotten places and bring every one back the King commands.

We see this redeeming generosity echoed in Jesus who had table fellowship with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners, all those marginalized by the smug and the self-righteous.

In their blindness they could not see that Jesus was showing them what God's kingdom looked like.

 By now the king's banquet hall was full with the good and the bad, every walk of life, every kind of person including the least desirable crowded around the great banquet table, to share in the Kings many gifts and pleasures.

Then comes an unsettling twist.

"The king comes and he sees a man who had come without a wedding garment.

The king addresses the guest "my friend" he says "how is it you have come without a wedding garment?"

The guest (who most likely had never spoken to a king or better still, think of standing before the Lord yourself), had no answer and in anger the king had the guest thrown out (of the light) into the darkness.

Now, we could say it was unfair for the guest to be tossed out.  After all it was an unexpected, last minute invite.  How was the guest to know? Did the guest even have a wedding garment? Besides, he came when the others, more deserving invitees had not even bothered to show up.

Whatever the wedding garments represents it does make clear that we must be ready and prepared for this most marvelous invite.

The point is - what gets us to the feast will not keep us there. Being invited is a good thing, but remaining at table is better. There seems to be in this parable, the laying out of the ongoing dynamics of salvation; gift, choice, and mission.

God's gift (His invitation) starting with faith and ending in salvation, is made clear in the life, death, and resurrection of his son Jesus. It is free, it is generously given and certainly it is unmerited on our part.

 We start by saying accepting the Kings invitation to the abundant gift of new life here and now (to be lived out in discipleship) and eternal life (in praise and glory) in Gods kingdom to come.

Yet, we must be clothed and in our right mind (as the gospel song tells us)

So we can stand before the King, grateful, humble and with a pure and undivided heart.

These are our wedding garment made new by Gods grace.

Remember, It doesnt end with the invite or just showing up. We must live out our acceptance to God's invitation with more than baptism, conformation and mass attendance.  These just get you the invite and the invite is just the beginning.

At the wedding feast we are honored guests, delighted and joyful, but we are also the obedient servants doing our part in inviting others to join us, showing people, by our lives, what it means to sit at the table of the Lord.

We are both undeserving sinner and newly formed prophet.

We are invited early or late. We arrive on time or as the meal is being served or even as desert is offered.

 It doesn't matter, but the quality of the heart does matters,

 "for many are invited, but few are chosen"

 

 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Exaltation of the Cross


To begin with - the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrates two historical events: the discovery of the True Cross in Jerusalem, by Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine and the dedication in 335 of the basilica built on the site of the Crucifixion.

 However the feast, more than anything else, is a celebration of God's greatest work of saving love: his death on the Cross and his Resurrection, through which death itself was defeated and salvation poured out into the world.

 I want to start with a truth that we just heard and on which I constantly reflect, and perhaps base my entire faith on

" God so loved the world that he gave his only son"

It is essential to remember that God did not send his son to die. 

He sent his son to love and to save.

And because God loved us he wanted to reveal himself to us, to have communion with us, to bring good tidings to the poor and to proclaim his kingdom come.


Think of it - the Transcendent God, who creates and sustains all life, loves us, so much the he came to dwell with us.

To really and truly; take on human life, to eat and drink, to tell stories, to laugh and weep, to heal and comfort and, as all humans often do - suffer.

 And in the end, (with unimaginable grace) accepting an undeserved and unjust death.

Jesus, God with us, is total self surrendering love.

And the cross is the undeniable sign of that unimaginable love.

 In the first reading we hear about another sign that points to the cross.

 The Israelites in the desert forgot the journey they were on. They forgot what God had done for them and continued to do for them. They were fed up.

"With their patience worn out by their journey, (we read) the people complained against God"

As a punitive reminder God sent poisonous serpents among the people.

Now, In their freight, they remembered God, because now they really needed Him and they asked Moses to intercede for them to save them from the snakes.

God gives Moses a simple, familiar solution, build a bronze serpent, suspend it on a pole, and whoever looks upon it after they have been bitten will live.

This was as a sign, a "thing" that reminded the Israelites that it is only God who sustains and saves.

 A sign is important, but it's importance lies in what it points to.

It was not the bronze serpent that saved, it was remembering and trusting in the God that saves.

 In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses that sign to help Nicodemus understand what was coming.

"just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert (Jesus tells him) so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life"

Moses lift up a sign of God' power and glory while the Son of Man lifted up is God's power and glory. But, this power and glory is surprising and unexpected and even beyond understanding and it flows from one truth -

 "God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

Jesus' life, his death on the cross and his resurrection is a living sign of the father's kingdom come; and that sign looked like self surrender, humility, compassion, healing, forgiving and redeeming. It looked like life not death.

To the authorities Jesus did not look like power and might at all. He did not look princely and certainly not messianic.

Paul describes God who dwelled among us.

 "Christ Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave . . . . . he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross."

This is the amazing Good News.

God beyond all understanding wanted to share his Devine life with us and so gave his beloved son to us and in doing so revealed a God who is love, given freely and completely, for the salvation of the world. 

 And this is Jesus, he showed us time and time agin what the kingdom of God looks like; complete forgiveness, a compassion that invited the outcast to table fellowship, that healed the sick and broken hearted, that transformed the world by the breaking bread.

And when confronted by hatred, and jealously he turned to a parable.

When he was falsely accused and turned over to the authorities,

Jesus chose love of God over love of self and in the midst of horrible agony and deep human betrayal Jesus still trusted God to do as he promised and in that love and trust Jesus, the Son of God, surrendered himself up to death. Even death on a cross.

If only the world had listened and seen with open hearts and minds Jesus would not have died that day.

But, the darkness of the cross revealed the light of the resurrection.

Jesus' total commitment to live only for God made the instrument of his death a sign of his love; sacrificial (in its surrender of self) redeeming (in its sanctifying compassion for every human person) and saving (in the fulfillment of God's promise to make all things new, including eternal life)

Those that hated Jesus and his Good News thought that with His death all would be well and business would be as usual. But, they were wrong.

Everything had changed on the cross.

Jesus did not die into nothingness, (as they hoped) but into the embrace of his Father, who's loving power transformed Him and raised him to new life and seated him at his right hand.

 To their horror the cross became not a deadening scandal, but a living instrument of hope and  salvation and it stands forever as a sign of God's renewing love that embraces all suffering and death.

Because of the cross we can look suffering and even death straight in the eyes and cry out from the depth of our hearts

"Christ is risen.  Alleluia"

But we are not done yet.

In the cross before us, that we venerate, we know that God's work, Jesus' work of transforming the world through self surrendering love is now placed in our hands.

We must, with the help of the Holy Spirit, work hard because no one will believe that the Kingdom of a God matters, that what Jesus did matters, that the Cross matters.

No one will believe Jesus is the answer, unless that answer transforms our lives.

"Pick up your cross" Jesus tells us "and follow me"

Thursday, August 28, 2014

19th Sunday, Who Walks On Water


Miracles always get our attention, but we must remember that miracles are not events unto themselves. 

They are signs of a new reality, beyond the conventions of our time and place.

Miracles always point to something else beyond themselves.

Jesus knew this and often said he could only do what he saw his father do and when ask how he could cure the sick he said that it was only a sign that the kingdom of God had drawn near.

 Miracles are certainly not a show of power (it is good to remember the temptation of power that Jesus turned away from in the desert), rather miracles are about surrender of self and a pouring out of Gods grace especially in the signs and wonders that Jesus did.

Miracles, also tell us something about ourselves and our relationship to God and his kingdom.

Last week in the feeding of the multitude we learned about Eucharistic communion, radical compassion and solidarity with those who gathered around Jesus and that we too are to be bread that is broken and shared.

Today we reflect on that to be shared, we sometimes need to leave the safety of the boat.

 So Who walks on water?

 Matthew's account of Jesus walking on the water follows Mark's account pretty closely.

Both reveal who Jesus is by what he does. What only God can do.

This is an epiphany, an encounter with God in this world.

And in hearing about this epiphany, we are meant to bring other epiphanies to mind as well.  Other times God comes to man as in the first reading when God passes before Ezekiel.

And we learn God often comes not as one might expect in billowing thunder clouds, "Elohim" the God of power and magistracy or in a scorching fire or the rumbling earthquake, something grand, terrifying and sublime, but instead God comes quietly and expectantly, in something like the whisper of a passing breeze.

This divine self-revelation is interesting, but what is important is that Ezekiel recognizes God's surprising presence. If he didn't, God would of passed by unnoticed. No encounter would of taken place. Blind to God's presence Ezekiel would of remained alone.

This openness and awareness to recognize God presence is the heart of the matter in all miracle stories.

 The disciples after the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000  we're told by Jesus to get in the boat and cross over to the opposite shore while he himself sent the crowd away and then went to pray alone. Jesus wanted to clear the air and defuse any false notion.

 It was a clear sign to the disciples (who might of wanted to hang out and bask in Jesus' glory) and to the crowd ( who John, in his Gospel, says wanted to make him king) that it was wasn't about his power and his prestige, what he could do.  It was all about God's Kingdom come.

 In the pre-dawn darkness of the fourth watch a sudden storm overtook the disciples in their boat and they were in grave danger and stricken by fear.

Through the whipping wind, the pouring rain and the churning seas they saw a figure approaching walking on the water.  They do not recognize Jesus (they were not thinking of him and since they don't expect to see him - don't) and so this mysterious figure approaching throws them into even greater terror they try out  - it is a ghost.

 But, Jesus in a voice that cuts through the storm, (imagine how loud that stormy night was).

"Courage, it is I -.he says do not be afraid"

It is I - the self-description of God. What Moses heard on the mountain.

Jesus is telling them that even now in their peril and fear God is present - present in Jesus' own being.

 And now Peter sees, but perhaps isn't quite sure for he calls out

"Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water"

If it is you Lord!

Isn't it always the question verbalized or not when encounter God?

We want proof when our encounter with The Lord doesn't meet our expectation and we fail to recognize God's presence. Peter needs proof.

"come" Jesus invites.

If you need proof step into the sea Jesus seems to be saying.

 Peter jumps into the sea and for a short jubilant time walks on the water towards Jesus.

But quickly, Peter takes his eyes (and heart and mind) off of Jesus.

Peter loses his bearing.  He realizes what he has gotten himself into, as he feels, the now very real storm that surrounds him. As, Peter's spirit sinks so does his body.

 And he cries out "Lord, save me"

How often have these words been spoken?

And just as often, Jesus immediately reaches out and grasps Peter's hand saves him from going under and they return to the boat.

It is important to take a moment to recognize the fact that Jesus is found, not in the safety of the boat, but out there, in the turbulence of the storm.

To reach Jesus, Peter had to leave the relative safety of the boat.

In faith (even if it was little faith) Peter needed to take a chance, he needed to step over the edge and that is a good thing, but he also found out, as we all do, that we cannot walk on water.

It is not who we are.  But, we can trust that with the help of The Lord anything is possible.

Now with Jesus and the rescued Peter back in the boat the storm is stilled by Jesus' command. Think of the God of Genesis stilling the primordial waters.

 In Mark's version the disciples are amazed, but don't connect the dots, they do not understand the meaning of the feeding of the multitude nor Jesus' coming on the water nor the stilling of the storm.  They are not as sharp as Ezekiel.

 In Matthew they are brighter and having just wittiness Jesus's command of nature and following the lead of Peter, proclaim the truth they had experienced "truly you are the Son of God"

 Every miracle Jesus did was an opportunity to enlightened minds and hearts revealing the new reality that could not only calm storms and move mountains, but heal the sick, restore sight, bring joy to the oppressed, comfort to those in need and even raise the dead.  These signs and wonders of Jesus changed the world and continue to transform believers.

 Last week we learn to be eucharistic people, who out of joyful compassion and profound  solidarity are to be broken, given and shared with others.  And now we are shown that to do this we must often, if not always, leave the security of the boat, wither it be our attitudes, our life style, our comfort zone or even our parish pews. We must get up and go!

We must be willing to step into the storm, the uncertainties and complexities of life, to find God or better still, allow ourselves to be found by God in the din or the stillness, either way always trusting that how many times Jesus says "come" he will always reach out his hand to help us reach him.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

15th Sunday, The Sower, the Seed and us.


Sometimes we think we know something so well we ignore its value and meaning. 

We stop listening or we jump to the end of the story confident we know the journey.

We know every parable was Jesus' way to open up the Kingdom of God and show us our relationship to it.

Jesus used the parable to try and break open the stiff minds and hardened hearts of his listeners, to get them to think and chew on an idea, to picture a new reality.

This is the parable of the Sower.

Which seems to have some added significance and weight - as scripture says

"He spoke to them at great length"

Jesus wanted to perfectly clear (at least a clear as a parable is meant to be).

 In this well known parable there are three elements.

Jesus is not so concerned about two of those elements. Not because they are unimportant.

Quite the opposite, they are most important, but they are also complete, constant, and nothing can be added to them.

In this parable Jesus is not concerned with giving or the gift, but about the openness and ability of receiving the gift. It is not about the sower or the seed, but it is all about the soil.

 Jesus knew and proclaimed that God is the giver of all life, and that the father sustains that life through his Word - love in all it's forms of blessings and grace.

And what the father gives and sustains is always fruitful and unstoppable like the mustard seed (the smallest of seeds) growing into the largest of tree.

The first reading beautifully describes this inherent fruitfulness.

Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they  have watered the earth making it fertile and fruitful my Word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it"

This is God's promise and our hope.

So the sower (God - the giver of life) and the seed (His Word - through which that life flows) is not the focus.

The plot twist is our varied readiness and openness to God's gift of the Word.

The question mark, the variable, which Jesus wants to highlight in this a parable is the human dilemma (which the early church herself pondered) - why would someone not want the gift?

 Even the most urban of us know soil, by it's very nature, is inconsistent and varied. It can be sandstone, clay, rocky, loamy or rich.

It can stay as it it is found, untilled and fallow or it can be tended and improved.

 Jesus tells us that some seed falls on the hard path where there is no chance of it taking root.  This hard path, beaten and worn, is the hardness of eyes and ears closed so tight we can not even hear the Good News or see its effect around us.

 It is the hardness of selfishness and a self centeredness that hardens the heart.

There is no openness for encounter, no willingness for conversion, no desire for transformation - there is only barren ground.  Jesus describes barrenness.

"They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand"

 Some seed falls on rocky ground where there is a thin layer of soil. 

The seed takes hold but it is quickly killed by heat, and lack of nourishment.

It is the Word received with shallow and short lived enthusiasm. Change begins and there is potential, but that potential dies because it is not sustained and encouraged.

We hear but we forget, we see, but turn away from what is seen.

We are moved by God's truth and  beauty, but that movement fades as Sunday turns to Monday.  Jesus describes this in realized potential as -

"They will hardly hear with their ears and have closed their in case they see or understand with their hearts and be converted"

 Jesus goes on - some seed falls among weeds and thorns.  This seed sprouts into a new tender shoot. But, this new growth is surrounded by things stronger then itself and it succumbs to their stronger, more ruthless influences, and it is crowded out by the darkness, and it can even be strangled to death.

It is the planted Word beginning to grow into faith, but as it grows toward the light it  begins to call into question our deep seated attitudes and self serving convictions that are not compatible with the Good News growing within us.  This growing faith becomes boxed in, stale and routine, it is put in its place by the world it is meant to enlighten.

 But finally Jesus tells us some seed is sown on rich fertile soil. 

Gods life giving Word, in all it's manifestations, falls on receptive ground where an active faith takes hold and it roots drive deep into receptive hearts and vigorous growth produces amazingly good and marvelously abundant and varied fruit. Jesus says -

"But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it , who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred fold"

The dynamics of the parable are simple - it is a reality check. Who are we? How do we hear and see?

To hear and see, in scripture, goes beyond the physical act itself.

To hear and see God's truth is to make what is heard and seen an indwelling action that changes lives. It is always life giving and transformative.

This fruitful hearing and seeing has four actions: to listen and see with an open and unconditional mind, to understand what one hears and sees, to accept what one understands, and this acceptance flows out into our behavior as human beings and as Christians.

The question asked that day and what we need to ask ourselves is where do we fall on the spectrum?

Are we open to the God given potential within us or are we closed up and barren?

Do we refuse to listen and see the Word of life? Do we listen half heartedly and only give it a passing glance.

 Do we understand with heads but not hearts? Do we accept,u but do not live out?

If you are like me we are a mixture of types and in need tender loving care and ongoing amending.

This comes from ongoing transformation through life in the Spirit, nourishment through the sacramental life of the Church, watering and weeding by other faithful and active believers in our home, parish and community. We are all gardens and gardeners.

The Kingdom of God is on the way.  It can not be stopped and like the rain it will produce good results in its time.

  We can ignore it coming, we can sit back and hope for the best, or we can become the soil it takes to absorb Gods word and by its power become fruitful and produce what is required, that is, we ourselves can begin to sow seeds that others will care for.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Palm Sunday



I want to reflect very briefly on four points in the Passion Narrative.

The Last Supper
What was the mood that evening?  It was meant to be a festive meal, but there was uneasy overtones and a real sense of the coming events over shadowed the twelve. 
Rather quickly they realized that this meal was not about the moment.  It was laying the table (so to speak) for the future.
Despite the darkness of the known betrayal or perhaps because of it, Jesus does something ordinary but full of new meaning, after the blessing he broke bread and gave it to them. But, it was the words that startled them and made this radical and new.
               Take and eat; this is my body
Did they remember Jesus’ words heard on the road to Jerusalem?
I am the bread of life. My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
Then he took the cup gave thanks
            Drink from it, all you (Judas!) for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many                                                                   
This table fellowship was Eucharistic.
This is Jesus, the Christ, forever being broken and given, poured out and shared.
This was victory over betrayal and disappointment and a reminder to us that we too are to be broken and given, poured out and shared.

The Garden
After supper, Jesus leads them to the garden where he prays alone.
If possible, Father, let this cup pass from me, yet not as I will, but your will
Jesus is uneasy and afraid and turns to his Father, as he always did.  Jesus does not want take the cup, but in his heart he knows that only the Father’s will matters and it is the Father’s will that Jesus, the loving and obedient son embraces.
It is a little childish and even a little dangerous and to give human attributes to God, who is transcendent and unknowable.  But, Jesus calls him father and came to him as a father.
So perhaps on that night the Father in an unknowable and mysterious way, looked down in something akin to human tenderness, and something akin to human sadness, when he willed ( for our sake) that his son must suffer and die.  Son and Father, wept that night.
It is victory over paralyzing fear and self-interest and a model of courage and selflessness through faith.

The Trial
The temporal power always tries to pass judgment on the divine.  The will of man tries judges the will of God.
Caiaphas the high priest, gathers his cronies in the dead of the night and they bring Jesus bound and shackled into the dim candle lit room where those gathered try to construct a case against Jesus .
None can be made.
Caiaphas in frustration finally demands –
Are the Christ, the Son of God?
 The irony of this self-evident question is not lost on Jesus -
            You have said so “ he replies.
And Jesus adds
           From now on you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the Power.  
This was blasphemy to their hardened hearts and too dangerous for them to let loose into their world.
Only death could hide the truth (or so they thought)!  But, only Rome had that kind of power.
The Roman authorities try to figure Jesus out.  Jesus doesn’t meet their expectation.  They try to figure out why they should care – political terrorist or crazy holy man. The Romans have only Roman minds and Roman tools and they use them; blunt questions and relentless, but useless torture.
This leads them nowhere; Rome washes her hands of the mess, and opens the door for the crowd to choose Barabbas over Jesus - to choose death over life.
This was victory over pride, anger and self-righteousness and our model for radical humility.

 Crucifixion
Outside the walls of Jerusalem on a hilltop called Golgotha; the Son of God is raised on the cross.
Jesus, becomes (as he always was) self-gift and redemptive sacrifice.
Jesus crucified, the instrument of our salvation, is an unmerited and undeserved gift and we can never pay it back.
But, as the Holy Spirit teaches us, it does not need to be paid back, only graciously and generously lived out.
Finally, dying on the cross, Jesus looks down onto a familiar face, Satan in the guise of an onlooker who tempts Jesus one last time with the words Jesus knew so well.
If you are the Son of God - come down form the Cross and to sweeten the lie Satan sneers
                and we will believe.
 The final and greatest temptation of evil was to entice Jesus (at the hour of death) to claim his divinity, to choose love of self over love of God, to save himself and not us!
And Jesus would not do it He died for us.
 Jesus, loving obedient and trusting son, refused to deny his Father and to deny our Salvation.  
This is victory over the world, victory over evil, and victory over death.

Along with the Roman soldier, let us proclaim in our hearts and with our lives,
truly this is the Son of God