What Shall We Do?

What Shall We Do?
Third Sunday of Advent, Year C
Zep 3:14-18a . Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6. Phil 4:4-7. Lk 3:10-18.

Joy! It permeates the readings of this day!
It permeates even the colors of our vestments and the color of this Sunday’s advent candle.

Like the soft dew in the morning, like the first rays of the sun, this joy, this hope, this feeling that the Lord is coming…

This joy gives light to the penitential season of Advent – this time of waiting, of longing.

Today is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of joy! When you take the penitential purple of Advent and lighten it, if you will, you get the color of rose: joy lightens, yes, even our vestments—and shows us as a people of hope!

That term “Gaudate,” means “rejoice”—be joyful over and over again. We hear it in today’s second reading: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.”

How beautiful is that!

The Lord is near! The kingdom of heaven is at hand!

And did you hear in the first reading that there are four commands to rejoice? One right after another:
Shout for joy
Sing joyfully
Be glad
Exult with all your heart.

Whenever the Scriptures talk about the coming of the messiah, as these readings do, joy abounds and overflows.

Joy is a different thing than happiness, you know?
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit – it is a God-given grace.

This is so different than the concept of “happiness.”
Happiness comes with ownership or possession. And when you’ve closed around that possession, you have finished – you have met the goal.
You are content! You contain what it is that you own.

But joy, well... joy has a sense of longing – it is the fruit of a relationship.
Where happiness is kind of a state of being – joy has a kind of longing –
It is the pilgrim’s condition – and with this longing is a sense of pure delight, because we delight in the Lord – a person, not a thing to possess.

And in the midst of all this talk about joy, we have John the Baptist again.

We heard about him in last week’s Gospel.
Half of that Gospel was given over to the who’s, the what’s, the where’s and when’s – we were identifying John to put John on this day, in this year, in this reign of the king – and to identify him as: The Son of Zechariah.

Talk about joy – John was the infant who leapt for joy in his mother’s womb, when he heard the sound of Mary – the Blessed Mother’s voice.

John – for all of his tragic end, was and is a kind of patron saint for joy!

This week, we know who he is, and he is answering questions.
You see, in the few verses that we missed between last week and this,
John has told this crowd that they must produce good fruits
as a sign of their repentance.

Now we have groups within the crowd, all asking John,
“what shall we do?”
John has an answer, and in a nutshell, in three words, it is this: act with justice.

That rings down through the centuries, not only for the people in that crowd,
But for the people in this crowd today – sitting here around the table of the word and the table of the eucharist: act with justice!

That’s what we’re sent out to do from these readings –
It’s what we’re sent out to do as as we receive in Holy Communion
The king of love,
The king of charity,
The king of justice,
The king of peace.

We need to do more than hear words and receive communion. Our very presence here charges all of us: act with justice.

And as Christians , we have to do this for all people. We have to love our enemies.

Look at these tax collectors—they were considered to be public sinners! Jewish tax collectors were collecting for Rome.
They were extorting their own people to get a profit.

But John doesn’t tell them to stop being tax collectors.
He tells them: stop charging more than is proper. Act with justice.

And he doesn’t tell the soldiers – who well might have been Roman soldiers in the crowd – he doesn’t tell them “Put down your lances.”
No, he says, “Don’t abuse your power.”
He tells them: Act with justice.

That simple message—in the everyday stuff of where they already are:
act with justice.
Do the right thing, not the powerful thing.

All this – and now another joy.
John in today’s gospel doesn’t announce the birth of Jesus. John comes to announce the ministerial presence of Jesus.

“Great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

The crowd back with John awaited the coming of a messiah.
The Gospel tells us they were “filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.”

The hope of the ages had been made manifest in John. Some 450 years had gone by with no prophetic voice to the Jews.
They waited and they watched, and they longed for the coming of the Messiah.
They longed for this joy!

And now, after this period of silence, John the Baptist appears on the scene: John breaks God’s silence!
His simple message is the prophet’s message: act with justice.
It is Isaiah’s message. Jeremiah’s message, Amos’ message,

The hope of the ages is now manifest in John.
And because of this, John knows that he has to be careful in pointing out the right way.
John points to the “mightier one who is coming … who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

John points us to Jesus, too, by his message.

And we who wait in the darkening skies of late fall,
we who live in times of things expected yet unfulfilled,
we who sense time going by… time slipping by…

We are told on this day, in this time to rejoice!

God is near. His kingdom is at hand – a matter of :
Already—but not just yet in its fullness.
A matter of breaking through in the kindness, in the justice, in the love that we show to each other in the ordinary stuff of our ordinary lives.

We need this reminder to rejoice. We need this reminder of the messiah among us who is Great in our midst.

We need to remember in this time also to have joy.

Today we rejoice because God calls out to us through John the Baptist. He speaks to us of our poverty, and in our darkness,
and he tells us how we can gain great riches.

We can act with justice. We can extend charity. We can love.

We can help break forth the dawn of the light of hope—that peace of God, that the second reading tells us “surpasses all understanding.”

That’s real joy!

The Lord is close at hand, my friends!
Joy in justice, love, and peace, is truly at hand for you and for me.

Gaudete! Great in our midst is the Holy One of Israel!

Do not be afraid

Do not be afraid
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
[1Kgs 17:10-16. Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10. Heb 9:24-28. Mk 12:38-44]

Today we hear about two of the most important figures in salvation history: the great prophet Elijah and our Lord Jesus; and we hear about two women who are never named - yet their deeds have come donw to us through the centuries. Why do these two women - these two widows - have such an impact? We'll look at that.

We have got to look at Elijah's situation first: He is that great prophet - the messenger of God. He is in great conflict with the king and queen at the time, Ahab and Jezebel.

And we've got to know up front, before we get into the story, that Elijah was only following God's orders here.

God calls Elijah first to place his trust in God - God, who sends Elijah into a place called Zaraphath of Phoenicia, goverened by Jezebel's father - a man named Ethbaal - who hated Elijah. And, God has sent Elijah to seek out a widow who will provide for him!

So Elijah obeys, he puts his hope in God. And now he sees the widow. He calls out to her....

And this is where we hear the widow's story: She is down to her last bit of flour and oil. She was about to make a last meal for herself and her son, and as she tells Elijah: “when we have eaten it, we shall die.”

Widows were among the most vulnerable of society in those ancient days and in Jesus’ day.
The reality of history is that women then were totally dependent on their husbands and without much social status.
So, if the husband died, the widow had no network of social support.

Widows lived as best they could: a hand-to-mouth and day-to-day staving off of poverty and oppression.
This widow of Zaraphath is at the point of despair – she is at the edge of death.
The times and tides of her fortunes could not have gotten any worse: a widow with nothing in a land that is now ravaged by drought. And now,

Elijah asks her to wait on him!

Look at Elijah’s response to the widow’s awful tale of woe: “do as you propose. But first make me a little cake.”

Hello? We have the brink of despair and death here, Elijah, and you want your dinner? And you want it FIRST???????

Yes. That’s the short answer. Elijah is trusting in God.

And Elijah also tells the widow one more thing: “Do not be afraid.”

Elijah asks the woman to step out in faith, to do this thing, because God will keep her in supply of flour and oil until the drought is over.

That’s a bold and maybe even arrogant promise made to a widow who sees too clearly the reality she faces.

BUT – she does it. And just as Elijah has foretold, she has flour and oil in abundance.

And now we go forward some 800 years to Jesus and the widow at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus, too, is a man in conflict with the powers that be.

Now, a widow comes by the Temple treasury while Jesus sits and – get this – Jesus:
observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.”
He’s just watching here!

We know from the ancient Mishnah that there were thirteen trumpet-shaped chests in the Temple that the people put their money into.
If you contributed a lot, the coins would no doubt have made a racket!
The more racket you made, the richer you were.

But this widow – she just kind of discreetly comes and drops in two little coins.
Jesus tells us that this was “all she had, her whole livelihood.”

And that is why the widow was pointed out to Jesus’ disciples:
she is completely poured out in this gift.

The widow asks for nothing.
According to the Gospel, there was no encounter between the widow and Jesus.

No cures, no comforts, no blessings, no promises.

Just Jesus’ very astute observation: the widow gave the most because she gave from her poverty. She is the example of the way of discipleship!

Now, the readings today are not about how much money you give or do not give in collections. We are all poor – we are all in the status of widows in one or another aspect of our lives.
No, today’s readings are metaphors about discipleship – of that great cost of discipleship which is available to anyone—to anyone, that is, who is willing to allow himself or herself to be emptied.

To anyone who is willing to trust only and totally in God.

Look at God’s glorious consistency here:
when we are poured out and desperate
– when we think that the end is near
–when we think that we have given all that we can give…..

When this happens, God comes – or Elijah his messenger comes – and we are told this:
Do not be afraid.
Give to me first.
Out of your poverty.

We don’t have to look far to see that example: the cross of the ultimate giver hangs just over the altar.
He gave the very gift of his human life – unafraid – and first – out of his human poverty.

There is another woman who is not a widow, yet she lost nearly everything – in the horrible atrocities of Rwanda.

Maybe you have heard of her:
her name is Immaculée Ilibagiza (ill ee ba gee za).
In 1994, she and seven other women spent 91 days cramped inside a small powder room in the house of a protestant pastor to escape the violence and bloodshed in her land.

While she was hidden, her parents were both killed – her father’s body was dragged through the streets.
A brother was rounded up and shot unceremoniously and thrown into a common grave.

During her captivity, Immaculée turned to prayer – and to the rosary given to her by her father –that small gift that we might consider his widow’s mite –just before she went into hiding. It was a gift of abundance for her - a gift of faith.

She stared down a man armed with a machete who tried to kill her during her escape.
She dealt with the heartrending loss of her family and came to learn the horrid details of their murders.

And when Immaculée finally had the opportunity to face the man who had killed her family, she gave her own small gift – her own widow's mite, so to speak, in just three words:

Out of the poverty of her loss, She told the murderer:
“I forgive you.”

What an exquisite gift! A gift beyond words! A gift of forgiveness that is a gift of love at it's most exquitite beauty.

It was her widow’s mite of sorts – a few small coins given as– three short words…. all she had....

When we are poured out and desperate – when we think that the end is near – when we think that we have given all that we can give…..

When this happens, God comes – and God tells us this:

Do not be afraid.
Give to me first.
Out of your poverty.

And you will get back in abundance!
But the first move is a move of faith.
But the first move, is yours.

Amazing Things, Amazing Choices

Amazing Things, Amazing Choices
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
[Wis 7:7-11 . Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17. Heb 4:12-13. Mk 10:17-30.]

The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword. That’s what the second reading on this 28th Sunday tells us, and it is undoubtedly true. That sword penetrates to depths of heart and soulthat nothing else can touch.
And, like god two-edged sword, the word of God cuts both ways.

You can be run through with the sword of God’s word and injured, or you can be run through with the sword of God’s word and allow the searing heat of its truth and love to heal you and transform you and raise you up.
It is your choice.

The man who comes up to Jesus in today’s Gospel was “run through” and injured by the word--it was his choice. This story is one of the great lessons in ethics in Mark’s gospel: Here, Jesus tells us what we have to do as Christians to attain salvation.

Let’s see who Jesus encounters here.
Mark tells us only that a man came up, ran up, and knelt down.
There is a sense of urgency here.
The man then addresses Jesus as “good teacher.”
He asks, “What do I have to do to gain eternal life?”
Somehow we have to think this doesn’t sit well with Jesus;
because His immediate response is not to give him the answer to his question, but to ask the man in return. “Why do you call me good?”

We have to remember that we are listening in on a 2000-plus-year-old conversation with the Jesus who actually was a man in history.
No pious Jew in that time would let this title "good" go by.
And that is just what Jesus is – a pious Jew – a real human being.
Did Jesus think the man was insincere?
Did he think the man was trying to flatter him?
Well, if you become familiar with the Gospel of Mark, you will see that every title people give Jesus is hazy and uncertain unless you consider the cross.

I like to think that Jesus’ answer amazed the man!
I’d like to think that Jesus is trying to “put the brakes on” here, and get this man who comes so urgently to him to stop and consider just what it is that he was asking, and just who it isthat he is talking to.

And when Jesus gives him the commandments to follow, the man himself replies with an amazing statement; can you imagine what the disciples must have thought?
The man says, “Teacher, all of these things I have observed from my youth.”
No adultery, no stealing, no killing, no lying, no defrauding; and he honored his father and mother!
Maybe the man was on to something about life—at least, about this life!

Jesus must have known now that the man was sincere, because the Gospel tells us, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…”

And so Jesus tells him about the “one thing lacking”: sell everything and give it to the poor, come back and follow me.
That is Jesus’ “final answer”!
That is the call—for this man—to radical discipleship!

And the man goes away sad – here is where we learn that he is rich – he had many possessions.
He is not able to rise above the possessions of his life to answer the call to put his whole trust in Jesus.
The living and effective Word has cut the man—and we have to think that this was an otherwise good man—and caused him sadness--it was his choice.

And now it amazes the disciples, because Jesus tells them, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
That had to upset them, because they, too, were pious Jews, and they knew the promises of Deuteronomy (Dt 28:11-12).
They knew that God said: If you follow me and keep my commandments, I’ll open up this rich treasure house of the heavens for you, and bless all your undertakings. So that every nation will look on you with awe.

When Jesus is reminded, “Lord, we have given up everything to follow you,"
Jesus again turns the tables, in fact he turns everything the we think is conventional thinking completely upside down.
He tells the disciples that if they have given up all of these things they are going to get them back in abundance. In this life, he said.
Oh, and one more thing—all of this with persecutions!

Well, talk about throwing a wrench into the works!
It is certainly a speed bump on the road to salvation!

There is the cross, in the midst of all of the other benefits. Always the cross. Jesus acknowledges that we all have to suffer—another hard lesson.
We certainly reference it enough, though I don’t know if we realize it or not.
How many times do we say, “he or she has his cross to carry.”

Everybody has to suffer.
It is a part of our human condition, because while we are beloved sons and daughters of God, we are also sons and daughters in the flesh of Adam and Eve.
Is it something we should shrink from? No.

Certainly, today’s mode of normal living dictates that we can’t very well give up everything—not in our current state of life.
And not everybody is called to give up everything.
We need certain things, food, clothing, housing, transportation, education.
The call that Jesus gives to the man in the Gospel should echo in our hearts to give up all the things that keep us from seeing and following Jesus effectively.

We cannot follow him when our minds are fixed on the “stuff” of daily life – when we are more concerned with our cars and boats and houses, our computers; how big is the flat-screen TV in our living room, the IPods, our standing with the boss at work.
There is hardly room for Jesus on that list.

We cannot let these things obscure our eyes and our ears. We cannot let them give us a false sense of security.
We cannot let them cover over our hearts.

We all need to see clearly the Jesus who calls us with relentless love to follow him—to put him at the center.

Is it difficult? Yes, more so than getting a camel to pass through the eye of a needle!
Every day we pray the Our Father, we say, “Thy will be done.” And then many of us go about doing our will ahead of God’s will.

Stay focused, stay clear, and keep your eyes on Jesus. That is the message of the Gospel.
Don’t allow yourselves to be insulated from the from the relentless call of God who, Looking at us, loves us, too!

The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.

Will that sharp sword injure you while you are concerned with the stuff of life?
Or will you allow it to penetrate you with that searing truth and love that God longs to give you to heal you and to transform you and to raise you up to eternal life with Him?

Consider the sadness of the rich man – my friends, it is your choice!

Having Your Say

Having Your Say

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
[Is 50:5-9a. Ps 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9. Jas 2:14-18. Mk 8:27-35.]

This is a root question, a fundamental question that Jesus asks us today!
And he does ask us! In the Gospels that are fulfilled in our hearing, He asks across the spans of time this persistent question: "Who do you say that I am?"

Peter, of course, in his own hasty fashion, blurts out his answer: “You are the Christ!”

Well, he’s partially right. Peter sees his version of the Christ—the anointed one—the long-expected one, the great savior of Israel.
In Peter’s mind, he has just identified the person who is going to rise up to defeat the Romans and bring back the glory of the Kingdom of Judah!

Sounds like the mighty champion the Jews have longed for! That’s what Peter is thinking when he answers Jesus’ question.

But Peter is experiencing the unfolding of the ministry of Jesus, and he is only here—only riding the crest of the wave of the messianic signs. Since Peter began to follow Jesus, he has seen and heard Jesus teach with astonishing authority. He has seen Jesus drive out demons, cure the sick, make the blind see and the deaf hear, feed the poor, calm storms.... and even declare Himself the lord of the Sabbath!
These are all messianic signs!

But again, Peter is only partially right.

We know this, because in our places in time, we have heard what we think is the whole story.

And that is why Jesus’ persistent question—“Who do you say that I am?”--holds such great interest and importance for us today.

We can only “know” someone in terms of ourselves—we can only identify who others are in terms of who we are.
And we can never know someone completely this side of heaven.

If we think so, if we fail to recognize the mystery of each and every person—ourselves included—well, I think we delude ourselves.

Let me give you an example: If you ask a 5-year old, a 15-year-old and a 30-year old male this question: “Who do you say a father is?” you are going to get three different answers. And all of them will be partially right!

Each one will define what a father is in terms of either his relationship with his father at his point of life, or in terms of what the actual experience is of being a father!
Each one is right – each one is not totally right.

And now, Jesus begins to “teach them”—to give them the true picture of His mission: He will suffer greatly, be rejected, be killed, and rise.

That is what brings Peter so much discomfort that Peter himself begins to actually rebuke Jesus!
And this is why Jesus refers to Peter as Satan: Peter refuses to accept this “suffer-and-die” course of events of God’s will. Peter wants to see Jesus live out his idea of mighty leader. In a way, Peter urges Jesus to go the way of the world, not the way of God.

And now, Jesus drops the other sandal – so to speak. Jesus tells the disciples that they have to deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow him.

Now that’s a different picture altogether!

It is a thing that we struggle with, like Peter did, with Jesus’ image of a suffering servant.
It is a struggle he offers all of us: “deny yourself, take up the cross, follow me.”

And Jesus continues to ask us, “Who do you say that I am? "

The question is relentless in its challenge. It is a question about relationships and about faith.

Remember that Peter, the man who confesses the identity of Jesus, also denies Him. The ones who followed Him also deserted him.
The “who do you say that I am” question had a different meaning in the anxieties of Jesus’ betrayal and passion and death than it does in today’s Gospel.

I have a friend whose uncle was in one of the most blood-spattered battles of the Second World War. Combat-weary and on the verge of emotional collapse, the man sat down on the brink of a bomb crater and leaned back against the stump of a tree that had mostly been blown to bits.

He took out his Rosary, now so beat up from having been with him through the war. He prayed, “Where are you, and who are you, and why have you led me to this desolation?”
The Corpus, the body of Christ on the rosary crucifix had loosened, and now in being jostled in the man's hand, it fell off the Rosary crucifix and bumped down the hill into cold, wet mud.
The man crawled down and fished around in the cold, wet, January 1945 mud, trying to find it.

And as he leaned over, incoming fire seared just over his head and blew to bits the tree stump that only seconds before he had ben leaning against!
He never questioned God about that again, because he realized that he had literally followed Jesus who tells his disciples: take up your crosses and follow Me, and I will give you life!

That's who Jesus was for this man in that place and in that day!

And now, my friends, on this 24th Sunday of the year 2009, the persistent question remains:

From where you are and who you are:
Who do you say that Jesus is?

Do You Know Me?

Do you know Me?
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
[1 Kgs 19:4-8. Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9. Eph 4:30—5:2. Jn 6:41-51.]

I wonder if you remember the series of American Express credit card commercials where the speaker looked into the camera and asked, “Do you know me?”

Those spokespersons were the likes of Robert DeNiro, Bob Fosse, Mel Blanc (remember him – the voice of Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig?).
There was even William E. Miller, who ran for Vice President in 1964 on Goldwater’s ticket.

Now, if you remember those commercials, none of those people actually said their names, but they gave hints to their identities. Only at the end of the commercial did you actually see the card with the person’s name on it.

Well, in today’s readings, we wrestle with identities again.

First we hear about Elijah, the man on the run, fleeing from the murderous threats of Queen Jezebel. He is in the desert alone, and he prays to God to take his life!

And then he falls asleep.
That’s how close he is to the point of despair – he has lost his way, he is overcome by his own circumstances.

And what is God’s answer – food!
God sends the angel with food to wake Elijah and to fill him.
The angel says: “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”

The response to Elijah’s request for death is food for the journey! God doesn’t grant Elijah’s death wish. Instead, He affirms Elijah’s life!

Perhaps God has asked Elijah: “Do you know me?”
Elijah has told God who he is; he has said: “I am no better than my fathers.”
We might say that God's act tells Elijah – You are worth the price of a meal—and more!
Your life is precious to me.
You are beloved in my sight – Elijah, you don’t really know Me.”

What also wasn't said, but might have, is: “Don’t grumble, Elijah.”

The second reading tells us not to grumble: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.”
It tells us to try and be like God – “be imitators of God, … and live in love…. ”
This is the identity that we should strive for – to be the people who imitate the love and the compassion of God.

In the Gospel, there is more grumbling, more “murmuring.”
The people that Jesus encounters say they know Him: He is the son of Joseph, they know His parents and His family.
Or shall we say, they think they know Him.

Well, they do know Jesus, but only in a very basic and imperfect sense.
But in the light of more complete knowledge,
these people aren’t even close!

The more you say you know somebody, the more you limit them.
And by that, I mean you don’t limit them—you limit yourself by closing them into a precise definition. In your mind, they don’t rise above that.

And that’s just the mistake that the people make in this Gospel.
Jesus says:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Flesh? They say. He is going to give his own flesh?
Jesus is clear and straightforward on that.
He offers us a part in his flesh, so that we can become like God, imitators of God, as St. Paul said.
Jesus reminds them that when the Exodus people grumbled in the desert,
God sent manna to feed them.
When Elijah complains, God sends food to uphold him.
That was food for the body.
But now, this new food….
Jesus offers Himself – for the life of the world!

Jesus is food for the abundant life.
Food that will help us to live forever. The bread of life.

It is too much for the people who hear this. It is far beyond them.

The question today, dear friends: Does Jesus’ message today, his ‘hint’ at his divine identity, his “Do you know me?”: Does this message challenge us?

In a way, we can hope that the Gospel does challenge us, because we move in the way in which we perceive the world and God by the river of our own experiences. Do we have a tendency to box the identity of Jesus into small definitions when He is so immeasurably more?

Jesus speaks in His identity to eyes and ears and hearts of faith today, as He talks to us through the Gospel.

When we receive Holy Communion through the hands of a minister who announces “the Body of Christ” or “the Blood of Christ”; the “Amen” of our response is not a mere ritual. By our Amen, we say “So be it; I believe in You.”

God feeds us and brings us to hope!
He gives us strength to continue on the journey.
It is food for our journey to God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus givers strong hints to a hardhearted people about who He is.
Jesus asks them and us, “Do you know me?”

If we look with eyes of faith, we who have been introduced more properly to Jesus; we who know who He is in our own imperfect way—because we can never know Him perfectly this side of heaven—we can say in our encounter with Him, “Amen, Yes, Lord. We know you.”

Knock, knock!
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
[Am 7:12-15. Ps 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14. Eph 1:3-14. Mk 6:7-13.]

Who’s there?
Norma Lee.
Norma Lee who?
Normalee, I don’t go around knocking on doors, but do you want to buy a set of encyclopedias?

(Sorry for the bad joke!)

Well, I guess we don’t get too many of those encyclopedia guys knocking at the door anymore, but back when I was a kid, we had all kinds of people: There was the milkman and the bread man, there was the huckster in the summer who brought farm-fresh fruit and vegetables right up the street to us.
We had the bell of the ice cream trucks.
We had the Fuller Brush men, the Avon lady….

Now, I’m certain that some of those people were also a bother.
Unless you knew the “regulars” at the door—you really never knew just what kind of line you were going to get when you opened the door.

So now we come to the present: Who is at your door? The door to your heart? Well, today, among all of the emails and faxes, urgent letters and phone calls, along with the "Mom I need this," and "Dad I need that," ... In the midst of all the stuff of life, it is the disciples - knocking on your door!

We think that these men must have been very special men – and they were – in God’s eyes and after so many years, in our eyes, too – because we know the end of the story.
But who were they then?
Then – when Jesus called them?

They were just ordinary men – fishermen and a reformed tax collector, a revolutionary – and even the one who would betray Jesus.
These are men with all the humanity and all the faults and foibles of men.
And yet – Jesus chooses these guys to work in a most extraordinary way!

And look how he directs them on the journey: not even a change of clothes! No food, no money – and importantly, no sack. The sack or bag was a trademark of the travelling philosophers, and Jesus didn’t want his men confused with them!

Jesus sends them totally reliant on God and the hospitality of people. They are indeed on an extraordinary journey – like crossing on a tightrope with no net!

Yet, they go,
And they go without complete understanding of who it is who sends them.
How they must have been confused – knowing in a certain sense the “right-ness” of the task, but with minds still full of questions.

Who is this Jesus? The Twelve have been asking this all throughout Mark’s Gospel. Let’s just see what these men have seen and experienced so far:
They have heard Jesus teach with authority, like no other man.
He casts out demons.
He cures those who are ill or possessed.
He cleanses lepers, heals paralytics, restores withered hands, calms storms.
He calls the teachers to accountability.
He tells parables.
He even raises people from the dead!

And He is rejected by his hometown people.
Who IS this?

With all of these incredible experiences – and with the nagging questions in their minds,
these men in the dark who are looking at the greatest of lights
go on their way to knock on doors, so to speak—to knock on the doors of hearts.

Knock-knock – who’s there?
Just a regular guy with a message that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

How will we know this?

Well, these men have been given the authority of Jesus!

They can preach, and cast out demons ,and heal the sick.

This message that these regular guys carry is exactly the message of Jesus! The first spoken words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel are these:
“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

And these men were able to accomplish great things;
not because of themselves,
but because they were doing Jesus’ work.
They were doing the work of God – whether they understood it or not!

They had to know that it was good.
And yet...
the doubt remained in them all the way until the resurrection appearances.
They doubted until the resurrected Jesus Himself appeared to them.

Obviously, not everybody is going to believe them. In the first reading, Amos, at the door in Bethel, is told flatly to get out!
Amos tells us who he is: not a prophet –

Just another ordinary guy, called by God for an extraordinary task.

And we, in all of our ordinariness –we too are called and empowered by our Baptism to do the same thing.

So, then, how do we repent? That word "repent" is probably inadequate to express all of the meaning of what the original authors wrote in Greek: metanoia: change your mind, change your heart, turn again...“think again after” -

And when do we repent? After hearing the Good News.
After seeing the signs and wonders in our midst,
After looking with eyes fully opened to the possibilities that Jesus brings.
And if you are really looking for signs and wonders, you don’t have to look far – I like to think the evidence is overwhelming!
Peter tells us: Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for our hope (1Pt 3:15).

People will not always believe us– the condition of the world gives testimony to that.
And yet...
the condition of the world also shows the result of those who have heard and who keep this Good News!

Look around!
Yes, we have examples in the saints: Mother Teresa...in our time! Saint Padre Pio...in our time! Pope John Paul the Great...in our time!

But here at our parish, in our communities, people are proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel by what they say and do, by how they live their lives.

I was talking to someone a few days ago and in answering a question, she said, "Well, I was on the way to the nursing home to pray the Rosary with the residents."

The Kingdom of God is at hand in that!

Some dedicated people put time and talent and knowledge into the parish "Vacation Bible School"...
The kids there, afire with the love of God, raised over $700 for a children's fund.

The Kingdom of God is at hand in that!

Ordinary people - doing extraordinary things; doing the Work of God!

We hear: Knock, knock.
We get up and answer the door and hear this: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent.”
We think, – On Sunday afternoon while the game is on? How inconvenient!
And yet...
the knock is persistent – the kingdom is God is still at hand – long after that last beer and long after the team has closed the ninth inning.
The Kingdom is in the “already but not yet” stage – it is, quite simply, At hand!

How will you answer the knock? How will you turn again to receive the gifts of God?
Jesus tells us that for anyone who believes, it no longer has to be the way of the world.

It can be the way of that abundant life that will heal and transform us – if only we hear and answer that persistent knock-knock of God’s Good News at the doors of our hearts.
The Most Gracious Gift
The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: Corpus Christi Sunday
[Ex 24:3-8. Ps 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18. Heb 9:11-15. Mk 14:12-16, 22-26.]

The people told Moses, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.” And so Moses makes an altar and splashes the blood of the sacrifice over the altar. Moses reads the covenant again to the people, and when they agree,
Moses then sprinkles them with the blood of the sacrifice!

It wasn’t with the blood of animals that Christ sealed the New Covenant – it was with his own blood! A death took place, a sacrifice took place to end all blood sacrifices.

On Corpus Christi Sunday we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
We celebrate this day with a special emphasis on the gift of Jesus Christ, the Holy Eucharist.
It is a gift of real presence: His body, blood, soul, and divinity really with us.

Eucharist is the great sacrament, the center of our worship – the source and summit,
and yet it is also a great mystery.
It is the gracious meal, the glorious and perfect evening sacrifice that brought us the possibility of salvation.

We cannot possibly hope even to begin to understand the great mystery of this gift of the Eucharist until we understand how to accept it graciously.

If we look back to the first meal, the little fruit snack that Adam and Eve ate, we see that it wasn’t offered!
It was taken – it was grasped at behind the back of God.
It brought a sad downfall. Adam and Eve had overreached.

The Eucharist, on the other hand is both meal and gift.
It is a gift of God who loved us so much that he walked among us as the Word Made Flesh.

It is also the sacrifice of the New Covenant – that perfect sacrifice that bought us back from
the sin of Adam and Eve and offered us a relationship with God that is beyond our imaginations! Not just deliverance from enemies, but redemption – by this sacrifice, God has re-deemed us – he has “deemed us again” to be worthy of his eternal friendship.

But the eating and drinking, what is that all about?

When we eat and drink at our meals, we consume food and drink. Our bodies process that food and it gives us nourishment.
We possess the food, and it becomes part of our body—part of us!

But when we approach the Eucharist, the real presence of Jesus Christ, we do so only one way: as people who receive the gift.

And if we receive this gift, this share in the divine life, we don’t possess it. It – the divine life – possess us!

Jesus took bread and broke it – before he declared “this is my body.”
He also said to do this in remembrance of Him.
That is a special kind of remembrance. It is called an anamnesis: a making present – a transferring of heavenly realities to the physical world.

It is a re-membering—a bringing into true and real presence at the Mass.
That’s what we mean when we say that the Mass as heaven on earth—and this is exactly what goes on—time and eternity meet when Jesus is present on the altar.
It means for us is that although we see what looks like bread and wine, bread and wine are no longer present. Jesus is present!

Humble bread, blessed and broken to bless a humble people who are visited by God!

If we believe that, and Jesus did say it: and Jesus is the Truth, we are blessed indeed.

But the Eucharist always points us forward – the bread of life, the sup of salvation – they point us forward.

We are dismissed at the end of the Mass — but not to go back to the cubbyholes of our own little lives.
We are given the Lord’s great commission to go and love as He loves us - with the love that is the greatest love.

We are to become what we eat, to allow the gracious gift to possess us and to transform us so that we might help bring forth the kingdom of God.

There is an inscription in the Church in the holy land where Jesus was to have performed the miracle of multiplication of loaves and fishes, that miraculous Eucharistic sign of feeding His people.

The sign says this:
“Love is like five loaves and two fish, always too little until you start giving it away.”

When you leave Mass, be pointed forward: take Jesus truly present within you out to the world.
Give His love away, and you will find that Corpus Christi – the body of Christ, has empowered, and strengthened, and has blessed you… and miracle of miracles, even when you give that love away, you will find that you still have His abundant love!

The Vine, The Branches - Mothers and Children
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Mothers Day
[Acts 9:26-31. Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32. 1 Jn 3:18-24. Jn 15:1-8.]

Thanks to those who have requested me to post last week's homily! Here it is with blessings to all mothers.

I am the vine, you are the branches. What a beautiful metaphor for relationship!
The root, the vine is Jesus Himself, and we as the branches are joined to Him. And He empowers us!

And what a fitting reading to have on this day, when we celebrate Mother’s Day, a day to honor and recognize those women: moms, grandmothers, aunts, godmothers, and all of those beautiful women who have been like a mother to us.

Because they are also vines -we are also their branches.

Just think about this: we are all here because of our mothers. No matter what your relationship with your mother. No matter whether she is close or far away, or even if she has passed on to the Lord.
We’re all here because our mothers loved us enough to give us all life. We all have that in common.

We also have another thing in common: because we are all here in this Church gathered around the light of this Paschal candle which represents the light of the world.
Our mothers who loved us into life have also asked for the gift of eternal life for us.

Empowered by Baptism: We are all given this gift because of our mothers’ love.
Baptism opens up the gates for us to have eternal life—life in abundance—because our mothers have asked for this for us.

That is a beautiful part of the story of mothers and children. Vines and branches.

Children hang on to their moms. And can we blame them?
For the first nine months of our lives—from our conception to our being born, we were the constant companions of our mothers. We were in are in a real sense the branches growing on the vines of our mothers’ very lives. No wonder there is such a bond!

And when you take a look at vines and branches and the way in which they are joined,
it is like the branches hold on to the vine with one hand, while they grow and reach out in other directions—in the directions of the experiences of their own lives.

Our mothers, who brought us up in faith, have shown us how that other hand should reach out and where it should reach out.
As we reach out by extending ourselves to Jesus, we grow out in the best of ways.
We take on some part of the Christian mission.
That’s what takes the other hand, if you will.

And as we grow from the vine of our mother’s love and encouragement and empowerment,
we begin to see how to act, how to be pruned back of our own consciences,
how to reach out to search and stretch to the Lord,
and how to embrace the Lord’s invitation to care in our lives for the good of all of our brothers and sisters.

Somehow as we grow and mature from our teen years and into our twenties and thirties, and as we reach out and exchange that “look of recognition” that binds us as men and women to each other in marriage, or as we reach out to embrace celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven to grow in other directions…

Somehow in that reaching out in our own maturity,
the hand that held fast to the vine or our mothers loosens its grip.
Was it us, or our mothers who did this?
It is a part of the love that moves to separation, as we now become in the maturity of our lives, vines ourselves, with our own children and with those whom we love.

That’s not anything to fear, that’s the power of the love that is the greatest love.
The love of mothers for their children.
This is a love that empowers us to become fully mature adults in the love of Christ; the true and perfect vine. It is a growing up, a growing out, and a new vine that reaches itself with its own branches to the embrace of a loving God.

In that embrace, we will never be apart, for we will all grow to unity with the True Vine.

That’s what good mothers do for us—that’s the kind of fruitful vine that our mothers are for us.

We always have the perfect model for mothers: Our Blessed Virgin Mary, a perfect vine with a perfect branch that was empowered by love to show us that greatest love!

At Cana, Mary empowered her son, who had asked his mother how the concern of no wine was important to the two of them. After all, His time has not come. Mary says to the servants "Do whatever he tells you."
Five small words that empowered a son to save the world!

Because of that perfect model, we can look out from our own vines and empower each other, and help each other, remaining in relationship with each other for the sake of the love of God which was poured out on us all through Jesus Christ.

There was a woman who stood outside and watched her child jumping up and down, up and down.... A man came down the street and asked, “What is your child doing?”

The mother said with great pride, “He is jumping to reach the stars.”

The man said, "That’s ridiculous, he’ll never reach the stars."

The mother was silent for a minute, and then she said softly: “Maybe he won’t reach the stars, but if I don’t let him jump, he’ll never get off the ground.”

That’s the kind of empowering vine that mothers are for us.

So to all of you women who are the vines of love for your children from the children who look to you as mother: We take today to thank you, to pray for you, and to bless you for all of the good things you have given us.

No, moms, your children may never reach the stars. But thank you for letting them—for lettng us us jump—thank you for helping us all to get off the ground.

The Beating of Hearts

The Beating of Hearts
[Acts 4:32-35. Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24. 1 Jn 5:1-6. Jn 20:19-31.]
When the new fire was lit on Saturday’s Vigil last week—and the Paschal Candle burning reminds us of this—it it was light in the darkness of a world gone very much wrong.
It is the fire of love that overcomes death.
It is the fire of a love that is Christ our Light.
It is the light of God’s mercy for the whole world.

I hope it went well if you went on a Lenten journey this year in your heart, in your mind, in your soul—if you journeyed with Jesus.
Because if you did, the journey took you to the cross.
It took you to the grave.
It took you to a tomb that waited like some kind of earthen mouth to swallow up the body of Christ.

And if you were on the journey, you saw some pretty astounding things! Lazarus is raised from the dead! …do you believe this?
The kingdom is proclaimed to a sinful woman at a well in Samaria.
To foreigners, to sinners, to outcasts.
The blind see, the deaf hear.
Lepers are cured.
The outsiders are given hope—people who had no business, no reason to hope….
Walls of racism, sexism, religious fundamentalism, and every kind of intolerance and injustice begin to tumble!
Prophesy is fulfilled!

And the bread that is the life of the world is shared with two disciples on the way—on the journey, because Jesus is present with them.
…Do you believe this?

Well, here in the Gospel, the disciples do not!

After all, the disciples are—in their minds—still back at Golgotha, still back at the tomb. Still, perhaps in the dark.
–they saw him die!

They stood in fear that awful Good Friday, so very far away from the center of the action--the crux of the matter.

And watched the cross, and they probably looked at the tomb.
But they encountered only the silence of that stone.

That is where they are in their mindset when Jesus walks into the upper room, right through the locked doors.
Right through closed and fearful hearts.
With His message of peace.
--Imagine that!

Imagine yourselves there: You are sitting in fear, thinking you might be the next ones to incur the wrath of the religious or political establishment, and the man whom you saw die comes into the room!
He gives you His peace!
He breathes His Holy Spirit on you.
Imagine that!
Chains of fear have been broken.

Why? How?

Because of His Divine Mercy!

And then there’s Thomas—the “doubter.”
He’s not going to believe unless he puts his hands into the nail marks.
He is also the one who told Jesus that he didn’t know where Jesus was going.
He was the one who when Jesus set out to raise Lazarus from the dead, said, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16).

Wow, what a background! A real skeptic!

But what about you and me? After all, aren’t you glad there was a Thomas? He is someone who represents us all.
He has trouble believing at times.
He needs all the help he can get!

And so Jesus comes back through the closed doors a second time—just for Thomas—just for you and me.
Jesus invites Thomas to touch the wounds.
If you listened carefully to the Gospel account, you know that Thomas is never reported to have put his hands to he wounds.

All Thomas could say was: “My Lord and my God!”

And, so now we see that Thomas the skeptic—just by seeing Jesus,
goes from the prototype unbeliever
to the person who announces the full identity of Jesus: Lord and God!

He saw and believed!

Do we believe? Can we really wrap our minds around the Truth that is based in God who walks among us in the person of Jesus Christ? Do you see it in the signs of the times, in the people you know and don’t know?

The evidence is overwhelming…
It is the believing that allows us truly to see!

We celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday.
We celebrate God who is such a divine lover, a lover extraordinaire, that He is relentless in his pursuit of all of us who are weak in spirit, hard of heart, slow to believe.

And this beautiful feast came about through the message of Jesus to one little nun, the beautiful Sister Faustina, closeted away in a cloister in Poland.

This feast was made present in the Church through Pope John Paul II, exactly where Jesus wanted it: on the Second Sunday of Easter.

Even St. Thomas is reported to have asked for this feast in honor of Jesus. Thomas asked that the story of Jesus who showed him the wounds be told according to the story we heard today.
We read that in an ancient source—The Apostolic Constitutions—the oldest document on the liturgy.

Jesus shows us the close connection between the Easter mystery of redemption and this feast.
It is a day of grace for all people, particularly for sinners.
Jesus attaches great promises to this feast. One is the promise of complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. It offers a completely new beginning—akin to baptism.

In a vision to Sister Faustina, Jesus told her:
I Myself act in your soul.
If trust is great, there is no limit to my generosity.
Tell sinners that I am always waiting for them, that I listen intently to the beating of their heart…when will it beat for me”?

When will our hearts truly beat for Him? Our souls be truly attuned to Jesus?

Jesus told Sister Faustina:
My daughter, tell the whole world
about My inconceivable mercy. ….
On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open.
I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy.

Jesus offers His Divine Mercy in ways that help our unbelief.
Here is what the Holy Father said about all this in 1997:

“There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy—that love which
is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness
to the infinite heights of the holiness of God.
“And it is a message that is clear and understandable for everyone. Anyone
can … look at this image of the merciful Jesus, His Heart radiating grace,
and hear in the depths of his own soul what Blessed Faustina heard: “Fear
nothing. I am with you always”
(Diary, 586).

The sign in today's Gospel is the mercy that helped one person--Thomas.

Do you remember that he prayed “that the world maybelieve that you sent me. …. … so that they may be one….

Jesus never gives up hope for our unity in Him.
He holds out His hand and asks, will you receive My Mercy?

And we become the recipients of the “new beatitude”:
“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Blessed are you! Blessed is your belief.

And now we have been given new eyes of faith to guide us.
New ways to bring forth God’s kingdom of Justice, Love, and Peace.

The Good News of the Gospel is at its most fruitful when it is lived out in word and in action.

Jesus walked through closed doors with his message of peace, His empowerment through the Holy Spirit.

How can you not believe?

In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter tells the authorities:
It is impossible for us not to speak about what we believe—about what we have seen and heard.

After all, Believing allows us to see!

And Jesus who died, is risen, He has broken the bonds of death and He offers us the promise of eternal life as sons and daughters of God.
Jesus now also offers his Divine Mercy!
For the sake of His sorrowful passion
Mercy on us and the whole world!

My sisters and brothers, You can Believe it!

The Look of Love

The Look of Love
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
World Marriage Day

[Jb 7:1-4, 6-7. Ps 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6 . 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23. Mk 1:29-39.]

Whenever we honor the sacrament of marriage together as a faith community, someone or other tells of their hurt--even of their offense at the subject. Often it is those in the single state, or those whose marriages, sadly, failed for one or another reason. Sometimes it is a surviving spouse who wonders where his or her marriage went when the marriage partner died.

But I hope I will not offend anyone today.
Today, I am speaking to all of you particularly about a special segment of the group: those who are married and whose marriages are good and working, because today, on this second Sunday of February we celebrate World Marriage Day.

Jesus in today’s Gospel goes right to the heart of the matter: He enters Simon’s house, finds Simon’s mother-in-law sick, and cures her—first thing! The mere mention of Simon’s mother-in-law tells us that Simon Peter was married, and for the Jews, marriage was and is a sacred state.

Marriage has been called the “primordial sacrament” the “original sacrament”: it goes right back to the first pages of the Book of Genesis: God looks at man and says (Gen 2:18) "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him."

And God fixes it by casting Adam into a deep sleep.
When he wakes up, Adam looks at the woman and says:
"This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”; and of course, we all have heard what follows:

"That is why a man leaves his father and mother andclings to his wife, and the two of them become one body."

This is God’s original plan, His original intent:
That the man and woman would look at each other, and be with and be for each other in a way in which they would complete each other!

Marriage reminds us of that “original glance” that “bone of my bone” experience that tells both a man and a woman that God has entered into their relationship—that God guides and nurtures two people as unique and unrepeatable complements of each other.

I'd like you to try a little something: If you are with your spouse, look at him or her. If you are married and your spouse is not with you, close your eyes and bring him or her to mind. And please do the same if your spouse is deceased.

What do you see? This is what I hope you saw: I hope you saw the one person in the world whom you are called to be Christ to by the sacrament of marriage!
You see the person that you are called to serve in a free, total, faithful, and fruitful union; the one person who makes you one body; who makes each of you even more complete!

Now, isn’t that a miracle? That is a sign of Christ’s life-giving love!

A sacramental marriage is more than a simple legal contract. It is a covenant, and covenant establishes eternal bonds of sacred kinship. It unites the participants in a relationship with God that is to last forever.
Your marriage covenant is an unconditional exchange. When you stood together at God's altar and exchanged promises, you promised, better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health to be each other's all the days of your lives. These promises say: “I am yours and you are mine. And we are both in God!” Yes: freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully.

How beautiful is that? And how can anyone do this?

You can do it because Christ Himself is the source of this grace of the sacrament. You bear each other's burdens and help each other to rise when you have fallen. You forgive one another
“He gives the strength to take up your crosses, …to rise again after you have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens.

My grandparents were married just short of 43 years when my grandfather died suddenly. My grandmother was a widow for 33 years afterward. On their anniversary day each year, she would lovingly remind me, "Pop and I are married –," whatever the number of years was. My grandmother believed in St. Paul’s teaching that love breaks the bonds of death, that “love never ends—never fails.”

I know a couple who were married in excess of 25 years when I last visited them in upstate New York. They like to sit on the side porch in the summer evenings after dinner. The husband would bring his wife’s sweater from the upstairs bedroom always at just the right time, because he sensed that she was going to be cold.

I know a young lady who has been married for about two years. She said recently, “My husband had “Peace be with you” inscribed in my wedding band. Sometimes just remembering that helps me calm down.”

Imagine that! Even when she is not with her husband, his peace is with her. That’s God Himself at work!

Whenever I think of marriage, I think of the miracle of the water being turned into wine at Cana. Only the servers at Cana, the ones who had actually drawn the water, knew what had happened. Something very ordinary had become something else, something completely outside of itself, something very extraordinary! And that’s what happens at marriage.
And those of you who share this precious relationship know that!

Oh you still look like two people to the world. You may even act like two people. But in the core of that marriage, you become the one new thing—joined heart to heart in a love that never fails.
That is the special occasion we celebrate this day.

And those who are married know that there will come a time--maybe you know it now--when you are so thoroughly two-made-one.

When you finish each other’s sentences.

When you wives know, for instance that your husband, always likes his striped tie to be near his blue shirt and the polka dot tie with the white shirt.

When you husbands, know for instance, that on your children’s birthdays you will always buy a bouquet of flowers for your wives.

When you do little things like that, these little just because things in a world that has become all too heartless, too humdrum, and all too routine, you will know that you are, and will always remain, the “new wine” for each other.

Jesus tells us all by the particular witness of successful marriages: It doesn’t have to be the way of the world.
Jesus says: Journey with me in this life-giving union and I will give you a glimpse of paradise! That is what the happiness of Christian marriages tell to the world!

And this is what we celebrate today: the sign of your bond that points us to the reality of God’s eternal love for us all! Today we celebrate you, we celebrate what God has done for you, and we celebrate and bless what your sign of love has done to show God’s presence and love to all of us who know you.

May your marriages and your days always be blessed!

Empowered by Baptism

Empowered by Baptism
Baptism of the Lord, Sunday, January 11, 2009
[Is 55:1-11. Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6. 1 Jn 5:1-9. Mk 1:7-11]

Just a week and a day ago, I had the privilege and honor of baptizing my youngest granddaughter. As I held her up at the end of the ceremony and presented her to family and friends as our newest Christian, I whispered words in her ear.

I told her that she is my girl, and that I love her.

And she, in that baby way of hers, gave my familiar voice that little crooked smile that she has, and she goo-gooed back to me.
She will never remember it—I will never forget it!

So parents, grandparents, what do you whisper into the ears of your children?
And children of all ages, what do you hear from your parents, your grandparents?

This is what Jesus heard from His father:
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
What a message of hope, of encouragement, of empowerment!

You know, it isn’t only what we whisper into the ears of our children that influence them, but what we do, what we say, what we believe, how we act—and react.
So a more focused question is: How do you take the message we hear in the Gospel? What do you hear? What does the voice of God say to you?

Some scholars talk about that voice in the Gospel and debate about who heard it that day. Some say it was meant only for Jesus.
Some say that the voice of God was bat qôl.
That is Hebrew, meaning the “daughter of a voice”—the whisper, the very echo of God to Jesus.

Yet we have it because of Mark’s Gospel witness.

The voice of God still calls out, still echoes out over the centuries to speak to a world that most times, no longer wants to hear what God has to say to us.

That voice calls to us to hear it, to receive it, and to act on it. In our Christian Baptism, a Baptism of water and the Holy Spirit, we too become identified as beloved sons and daughters of God.

We receive that indelible mark.…
We receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

And Baptism empowers us to use these gifts according to our own state in life as members of the Body of Christ.

Let me tell you about a man who lived that empowerment according to his state in life first as a Lutheran minister, and from 1990 as a Catholic priest.

He was the son of a Lutheran minister, born in Pembroke, in Ontario, Canada. His name is Richard John Neuhaus. He was nationally and internationally known as the Editor in Chief of First Things Magazine, a journal of religion and public life. He was president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life. And he was one of the foremost voices for the Church in the public square.

He was known for his deep commitment to social justice and to the causes of peace and life.
Not long after his ordination as a Lutheran minister, he was one of the white clergy who,
empowered by baptism, actively participated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for civil rights. This was probably the most profound influence on Fr. Neuhaus’ life: the speaking out in the public square to uphold the freedom and dignity of all people as creations of God no matter their race or color.

Even as he became widely known and sought after, he remained with his people in some of the poorest and most distressed areas of Brooklyn and Manhattan. He ministered to them one person at a time—not as a media darling who knew Pope John Paul II personally, but as their priest.
And he refused to talk down to them, never preached down to them. He brought his empowerment through baptism to them, and for them--to empower them.

Father Richard passed into eternal life this past week on January 8. Many of us were saddened, I among them. We won’t hear his voice any more. We have lost a valued national figure for the church and a staunch defender of the human rights of all people. His parishioners have lost an extraordinarily pastoral priest.

One of his priest associates said in a press release not to cry for him, but to cry for ourselves, because through his baptism, Fr. Richard knows that his Redeemer lives, and we know where he is.

There is an example in the public life of a man encouraged and empowered by his baptism.

As we begin this New Year, we would do well to reflect on that, on baptism and how it empowers us, and how it calls us.

We have a “Vision Statement” for this diocese that is literally Lumen Gentium—that beautiful teaching of Vatican II—on our relationship as Church.

It says, in part, that we are:
Empowered by baptism, inspired by the Holy Spirit…"
And so, “we reach out with love
To proclaim and teach the truths that save,
to forgive and seek forgiveness,
to care for our sisters and brothers in need,
to work for peace within our families and communities,
to promote respect and justice for all people….” And more.

That is our mission, the mission of the Church, the mission of all of God’s people.

Fr. Neuhaus put it like this:
"We are called to be heroes and heroines in persevering in the exciting adventure, the high adventure of being in the pilgrim people who lead the entire cosmos toward the promised land."

My dear friends, it all begins at home.

Mothers, fathers, it begins with the love, the encouragement, the confidence that you whisper into the ears of your children.

It begins with your involvement according to your state in life in the mission of God’s church.

It begins with your willingness to be a member of the pilgrim church that groans, and reaches, and yearns for God.

The voice in today’s Gospel is now for us—we are the beloved sons and daughters of God!

Passing me by?

Passing me by?
Wednesday, Christmas Weekday, January 7, 2009
[1 John 4:11-18 Ps 72:2,10-13 Mk 6:45-52]

I often wonder—maybe you do, too—how many times does Jesus Christ pass me--pass us--by during the day and we fail to notice him. How many times did he do great things for me—for us—and we never saw him, never heard him, never acknowledged him, never gave him credit.

But today’s readings show us that we are not alone—He shows us that He’s with us, working with us, bringing us through the trials and storms of all of our lives.

He says, “Do not be afraid.”

He is with us—that’s what we hear in the First Reading from the First Letter of John. God is with us, if only--if only--we love one another. In today's Gospel , Jesus made his disciples get into the boat while He went out to pray. Don't you wonder if He knew a storm was coming? He saw that they were tossed. He knew that the wind was against them.

And then He came to them, the drowning men, the desparate men, losing their battle with the sea in the darkness of night. We hear that "he meant to pass them by." But he comes walking on the water to them, to save them. God comes to be with His people!

And His people—His people are … well, you know, why, they’re afraid! They’re already afraid because of the storm, and now they think He’s a ghost!
But Jesus has power over that water. He walks on the very stuff that the disciples are afraid they are going to drown in!

Jesus tells them God’s message throughout the Bible: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

They had cried out to Him--they cried out in terror. How much worse could their lot have been?
"Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid."

Take courage? Like it is being held out to be taken?

Yes, it is. Jesus offers himself. He gets into the boat with them. All is calm. Unfortunately for them, they misunderstood. "On the contrary, their hearts were hardened."


Not only had Jesus not passed by, but He actually joined with them. And they, while "astounded"; well, it seems they missed the point, missed the encounter.

In a real way, these men actually put on Christ as a passenger, and yet, only as a passenger.

So what about the storms in our lives? Do we fear because we are not in control? We have no control about when they come on, how long they last, how intense they are. Do we fear because we have to do something about these storms? Whether it be illness or loss of a job, or a sick child—whatever--these things call us out of our comfort zones.

We have to cry out in our own terror, so to speak; and so often we have such little faith in trying times. We have more terror than faith. The blessing is to have faith when things are bad.

And how will we know He is there to save us? I think we’re not going to see Him in the storms, or the wind, or the earthquakes or the fires of our lives. I think we have to put look past the terror of our moments and call out to Him. We need to listen to Him calling back to us, "Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid."

And He will be in that hand outstretched to save us. He will be in the strength that pulls us up from the waters that rise up to our necks! He will be in the love that casts out fear. The perfect love.

But when the wind dies down and we have a chance to look closely at Him in the calm, and when we are astounded that we have found him in the encounter; well, we have to gurad against misunderstanding. We have to remember no pain no gain, no trial no treasure, no cross no crown. He knows who we are!

Don't let Him pass you by.