“Do This”

Sunday of the Body and Blood of Christ 6-3-18

Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 116:12-18;Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-26

 

In the largest sense of human history, the Solemnity we celebrate today is the story of God’s relationship with all of creation; an intimate relationship of The Creator with the creation. Without the soil and the sun and the rain, the plants do not grow, and there is no food.  Without food, there are no animals.  Without God, nothing exists.  It is a good day to pause and remember our interrelationship and the necessary balances God established in creation to sustain life.

But meditating on the largest sense of human history can make us feel tiny, and we can feel too tiny to think about the enormity of it all. So, perhaps it is well to focus on the small parts of creation at a level where we can better grasp ideas that seem to impact our lives more personally.

Our reading from Exodus is about Moses sprinkling the blood of animals which have been sacrificed as peace offerings to God. Moses sprinkles the blood on the altar, as our rituals might have us incense the altar.   Then there is a reading of the covenant with God, and the people renew their vows to be God’s People and obey the commandments God has given them, just we renew our baptismal promises on Easter.

Then Moses sprinkles blood on the people, just as we sprinkle the water of baptism. But there is another side to this idea.  Our Eucharist speaks of “the cup of my blood”, the blood of Jesus which is shed for all so that sins are forgiven.  Today we have dozens of laundry products specially designed to remove stains.  Blood and wine are always first on the list of difficult stains to remove.   It is a startling idea that the blood of Jesus should not stain us and ruin us, but instead washes us clean of sin, removes all guilt and eliminates the need for punishment, allowing us to live eternally with God.

Our Psalm speaks of the “cup of salvation”. This Psalm could have been written by a contemporary Christian poet.  We take up the communion cup of salvation, calling on the name of the Lord, who has freed us from evil, selfishness and sin.  We remember our vows to God.  In order to give thanks to God, we must sacrifice our overinflated egos and all our “dead works”, as our 2nd reading calls our behaviors such as attempting to reduce God to an hour on Sunday.

So, like the early Christians, we experience the Body and Blood of Christ in the Mass as a sacrament, meaning an effective sign of grace, which works to give us divine life through the Holy Spirit. How did that look just after the first Pentecost? Well, in Acts 2:42 we find that (Christians) “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  The identity of Christians, then, was formed in unity, unity in belief and charity, both of which were founded in Eucharist, centered in thanksgiving for the gifts of Christ’s body and blood.

Some twenty years after Pentecost, The Church in Antioch left us a manual of liturgical prayers which we call the “Didache”, Greek for teaching.  In about the year 100, Pope Clement wrote a letter to the church at Corinth, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might!” Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the church to “Confess the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.”  In about the 150’s Justin Martyr wrote a detailed description of the Mass as it was celebrated in Rome.  We have historical evidence of the Mass in letters & prayers.

What was the impact of this Mass on the early church? The church had a growth rate estimated at 40% per decade, and by the middle of the 4th century, there were 33 million Christians in an Empire of 60 million people.  The Church Fathers quoted Malachi 1:11, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, with a pure offering” –  as to say that always and everywhere in the Empire, the Mass was offered.

By then the Mass was called, “the Breaking of the Bread”, “the (once-for-all) Sacrifice”, “the Liturgy”, “the Mysteries”, “the Table of the Lord”, “the Lord’s Supper”, “the Altar”, and “the Communion.” But “the Eucharist” won out, because it was the Greek word for giving thanks, and Mark 14:23, Matthew 26:27, Luke 22:17, and 1 Corinthians 11:24 all used that word. Although great care was taken to keep the liturgy within Christian tradition, the spread of the Gospel from place to place included new and local ways to express worship, but the Words of Institution as found in 1 Corinthians 11 were kept intact. (“On the night when he was betrayed, he took bread and when he had given thanks; he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me…” Likewise the cup..)

We keep these words because Jesus commanded us to do so at a most solemn moment anticipating his death. St. Paul emphasized that this action is at the center of the church.  The cup “is the new covenant in my blood.”  Thus, all the subsequent generations have meticulously preserved the Lord’s words and actions as precious and divine.  The many ways that the Christian liturgy shares the prayers of our Jewish brothers and sisters is a fascinating study all by itself.

For early Christians, Mass was the meeting of heaven and earth. But the Mass was also preached as the unifying power of the church.  “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1Cor 10:17).  Ignatius wrote, “For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to show forth the unity of His blood.”  Great reverence and care were taken with the elements, which were regarded as more precious than gold or jewels.  Likewise, clergy were to give careful attention to the worlds of the liturgy, and great emphasis was placed on John 6:51, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, they will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Finally, the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Christ when he opened the Scriptures for them, but rather in the breaking of the bread. In the same way, many millions of people have come to know Jesus after he ascended to heaven.  It reminds me of a quote from Pope Benedict XVI – “Evangelization is…the opening of the heart…(we are) agents of the Holy Spirit helping people have a profound experience of Jesus’ love…a love that opens them to the Word of God and the sacraments…”

We have here a sacrament of depth beyond our imaging, a sacrament which has roots in the earliest moments of creation. We have a liturgy for this sacrament which opens the hearts of people to God with the same power that it did centuries ago.  We have words and actions which we share with those who have gone before us and which we are responsible for passing on to those who come after us.  May the Holy Spirit lead us in this journey, may you find the fullness of God’s mercy and grace, and may Jesus remain in you as you partake from his table.

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Looking for Joy

4th Sun Lent 3-11-18

2 Chronicles 36:14-16; 19-23 Ps: 137:1- 6; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

 

I struggled for days with this ….I wrote at least 3 different homilies…all of which ended in the recycle bin. Be glad!  Then I had an altogether brilliant idea.

Actually, it wasn’t the idea that was so brilliant. It was the color of these vestments that was brilliant.  Whew!  Rose with a glow! What is the point of this rose?  This happens twice a year, once during Advent and once during Lent.  It is the half way mark in those liturgical seasons.  It is when the mood lightens at little.  It is Joy breaking through the somber tone of the waiting in Advent, breaking through the examination of our lives and our faith in Lent.  But why joy??   The “why” of the joy never sticks in my brain quite as well as “the what”.

So we look for joy in the readings. The first reading is about how the people of Judah lost their faith and ended up captives in Babylon.  Nothing so joyful there (but they do finally return home).  The Psalm is a lament, a song of loss and regret, grieving for the city of Jerusalem, which has been destroyed. No joy there.

Ah, but we have the 2nd reading, from St. Paul, who was writing the Good News of the Resurrection to people in the city of Ephesus.  They were hearing this for the first time!  Perhaps, just perhaps, we could put ourselves in that frame of mind, and see if we can find the joy there that seems to elude us.

So, what does Paul say? First thing is that God is rich in mercy.  Mercy, as we talked about 2 weeks ago, is when God does not give us what we deserve.  We sin, we fail, we do what we know we shouldn’t do, we don’t do what we know we should do, and still God is not ready to pounce on us with punishment.  Why not?  Because, Paul writes, God has “great love” for us.  Everyone benefits from that great love.  Being loved is what the human spirit needs more than any material thing.  In fact, God loves us – greatly – even as we are in the middle of the worse moment of our lives, when we are behaving really badly.

Paul says that at that moment, when we had our backs turned on God, God saved us. God rescued us from ourselves and raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus, so very much more than we might dare to expect or even hope for.  Paul calls this “grace”.  Grace is when God gives us what we do not deserve.  God’s plan is to show us the immeasurable riches of grace.

Now, that is amazing…and pretty joyful the more you think about it. I know of no one who finds a child or employee or student who are behaving at their very worst, knowingly being disobedient or disrespectful, and then takes them off to a place filled with joy and showers them with love.  The joy-filled riches of grace are beyond counting, but they are not locked up in a bank, and never tarnish or lose their value.

If fact, God is ready to give us what no human really deserves, and that is to be with God for ever, face to face in real, pure love and joy. Paul makes it clear; we are saved by grace from punishment.  We cannot earn enough bonus points on our credit cards to get a trip to eternity with God.  Paul says it two different ways to make sure we get it: first, “By grace you have been saved through faith,” and second, “It is the gift of God; it is not from our actions or behavior, therefore no one may boast” (no one is better than the others).

Faith without good deeds, of course, is dead, as James wrote in his short letter (read it sometime). Faith is only real and alive in our lives when we are doing the good things that we were created to do.   Paul wrote that God created us for the good works that already are waiting for us to do; we should find meaning and discover our very lives in doing good things.  Grace seems to bring about this desire to act out in love.

People want joy, but they look in all the wrong places. Paul tells us the right place to look.  We find joy when we believe God.  Some people confuse joy with happiness or good circumstances.  But, joy is a gift from God, and not dependent on where you live or beauty or strength or even good health.  Joy is the result of accepting the “great love” of God. We wrap God’s love around us, we feel it, we deeply breath it in, we cling to it when we have nothing else.

Our Gospel reading backs Paul up. It also says that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn or punish us, but that we might be saved through him; and whoever lives in God’s love and joy comes to the light that their good works may be clearly seen as done through God.

So we continue on toward Easter. Ahead is the difficult half of Lent – facing the cruelty and selfishness that sometimes enters the human soul.  We have to admit how low our price is for betrayal, how quickly we let fear overcome us, how we use others for a small moment of gain.  But joy is an act of rebellion against the darkness, and so, for today, we focus on the joy of the triumph of the cross, and the power of love to overcome even death.

Homily, January 21, 2018 -The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

1102014625_univ_lsr_xlToday’s gospel from Mark gives a slightly different account of Jesus’ call of his disciples. First we see that John the Baptist has been arrested, and also that Jesus has started his ministry. This means that the disciples had an awareness of him and possibly that is why they answered his invitation so readily. God’s call did not always come easy in Israel’s history. Many of the prophets only reluctantly answered God’s call. A prime example was Jonah in our first reading. But we see that in the end God got his way even with the 3 adventreluctant. Jesus was preaching that it was time to repent and believe the good news. He had a message and it was new. But first a person must repent, turn around, change and hear the good news. Hearing the good news means attaching oneself to Jesus. That was the ultimate turn around, made first by Jesus’ disciples and passed on even to us today. Jesus’ call was to a way of life, to a lifestyle, to living together in a community he came to call a church. It entails a whole new way of cross_square_cut_400x400life and worship, that Jesus began by fulfilling God’s plan that included even his dieing and his resurrection. The good question today is can we with all the interruptions and daily problems still commit ourselves fully to Christ as the First disciples, who left their Father and their boats and followed Jesus. Surely sometimes it is easy, but at other time it is difficult and challenging. But we must remember always we have Jesus and the Strength of his Cross to get us through whatever we face.

The Three Big O’s

Christ the King11-26-17

Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm: 23:1-6 1 Corinthians15:20-26, 28Matthew 25:31-46

I remember a Sunday school class, long ago. We were learning that God was omniscient, (all-knowing) omnipresent (everywhere), and omnipotent (all-powerful).  The teacher hoped to “wow” us with the words.  But we were the new generation – taught to ask questions & expecting answers.  So someone asked, “Does that mean God is in the garbage can?”  The questioner was not being rude or flippant; the question was honestly one for clarification. The poor teacher stuttered and stammered, and finally, hesitantly agreed that, “Yes”, everywhere was, indeed, everywhere, even undesirable places.

Now, I have some questions about “Christ the King”. “King” is a political title, masculine at that.  God is not a gendered being.  Jesus was not political.  In fact, in John’s Gospel, Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingship is not of this world…”  Jesus’ authority is not of any geopolitical space. And wasn’t the original purpose of “Christ the King” in 1925 to emphasize that Jesus was entirely different and far superior to those dictators violently grabbing for power across Europe? Wasn’t this the church’s attempt to remind us that military rule is the antithesis of Jesus’ message to love God and neighbor, the only “rule” necessary?

Thomas Friedman, a well- known New York Times columnist, recently published his latest book, “ Thank you for being Late: an optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations.”  It’s a good read.  The title refers to a friend being late for a lunch date, and Mr. Friedman having unexpected time when he could sit and think about some of the changes in our culture.  The changes all seemed to revolve around technology altering the ways we relate to one another, market consumer goods, communicate, travel, view our world, and so on– and the increasingly rapid technological advances coming at us.  Some one (who knows, maybe the kid from my Sunday school class) asked him this sincere question, “Is God in cyberspace?”  Technology has expanded the universe beyond stars and galaxies. Like my teacher, Friedman didn’t know how to answer.  So he asked his Rabbi.

Rabbi Marx responded from two different perspectives. The 1st is the traditional view from the Jewish Scriptures:  God had Moses lead his people out of Egypt and he sent prophets to guide them.  The Psalms are full of praise of God for saving people from danger and despair; God is passionately engaged and present; God seeks us out.  But Marx says, (If you think) “God makes his presence felt through divine intervention, (well) he sure… isn’t in cyberspace, which is full of pornography, gambling, …all manner of hate speech, etc. ,etc.” He makes cyberspace sounds like a garbage can. But Marx, unlike the Psalmists, seems to deny that God would get his hands dirty when things go bad.

So, Rabbi Marx continues with the 2nd perspective, “The Jewish post-biblical view of God is that we make God present by our own choice and our own decisions; whether it’s a real room or a chat room, you have to bring Him there yourself by how you behave, by the moral choices and mouse clicks you make.  In that view, we understand that from the first day of the world…(humankind) was responsible for making God’s presence manifest by what we do.  And the reason this issue is most acute in cyberspace is that no one else is in charge there.  There is no place in today’s world, where you encounter the freedom to choose that God gave us, more than in cyberspace – where we are all connected and no one is in charge.  So the answer is “No” – but God wants to be there.”

I like the emphasis on personal responsibility, but I wonder if this sad view of a God who shyly waits for us to invite him in finds its roots in the racist homicidal evil of the Nazis, who killed more than 6 million Jews, as well as the hope & faith of generations. Pollsters say that among today’s American Jews, twice as many people view God as an “impersonal force”, rather than the God who seeks a relationship with us and is always present.

So, as Catholic Christians, what do we do about “Christ the King”? We turn to Tradition and Scripture.  Our belief in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a good place to start.  Paul (1 Cor 3:16) says it plainly: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” I dare say, wherever I am, God is there, even in that garbage can of a nursing home in Glen Burnie. I shared the Spirit with people there and sometimes I met the Spirit in the rooms and the hallways.  People who “did not speak” said “Hail Mary’s” with me and prayed the Lord’s Prayer.  We can participate in the light and power of the Divine Spirit – and that Spirit is all spaces, cyber and otherwise. The church celebrates this indwelling in Baptism, Confirmation, and the Mass.

Jesus came to earth and was met with the slaughter of the Innocents by Herod, he spoke boldly when tempted by Satan, he called out to Simon and Andrew when they were fisherman, he engaged the woman at the well, he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday against the advice of the disciples, he approached the men walking to Emmaus, he appeared to the apostles after his resurrection; he did not wait for them to come to him. The people (Mark 1: 27) recognized he spoke with a new kind of “authority”.  He told us, “I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt 28:20)  Jesus is not hesitant.  Jesus is present.

John 3:16 says,” For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  In Revelations, we find, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come.” It sounds like God has the future technological advances covered already.

So I conclude that not only is God omniscient, omnipresent & omnipotent, and therefore there is no worry about God’s authority in the universe, but we should focus on what we can control. That means we focus on our relationship with God and neighbor, and we share that in word and deed (like in today’s Gospel), keep the “garbage cans” of our lives clean, contribute to our society with integrity, and trust God for the rest.

Homily November 12, 2017- the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

32sun3 (2)As we approach the end of the year, both liturgically and really, the readings seem to get ominous and in a sense scary as they talk about the end of the world. None of us likes to think of our own mortality or the world around us falling apart or ending. Realistically, thinking of our death or the end of the world, isn’t really a wise thing to do or a wise way to start a day or to plan ahead. What is really wise is not to plan our departure but rather plan the present moment, the waiting as well. As Christians, we know that with Christ’s death and resurrection and ascension, and his sending of his Spirit, that God’s kingdom 32sun2is now. We are called to be present to others, to be Christians, to give, to share, to care. These are the things that last and benefit the kingdom. God’s kingdom is now, in our own lifetime. What we see and share and believe is only a preparation for what will be in another time and place. God’s presence is now and always. Many speak of wasting time as they rush through their daily schedule. Perhaps the rushing is the waste if we neglect interaction and caring along the way. How many people, friend or not do we rush by? How often do we step aside to pray? Or to just appreciate God’s gift of the world around us, a scenic 32sun4place, or a sunset or sunrise? Or to embrace and appreciate the family and friends we have?

All the above is important because death or the end of the world is not an end for us or God’s kingdom. Life will not end but change. That change is told to us by God but what it entails we don’t know. We do know that all who have died will rise and God will embrace all who are to be in his kingdom. But we as Christians are already in his kingdom if we are living as Christ asked us to do our passage should be a reunion of all those we have known and those we will come to know.

Homily July 23, 2017 the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

16sun5The parable of the wheat and weeds like the parable of the sower last week has an allegorical interpretation added to it at the end. If we put aside the interpretation, we can most likely see the parable as Jesus spoke it. What then is the point of the farmer asking to let the 16 sun 1weed and wheat grow together? It would seem that in the context of the gospel, the parable was probably a warning about judgment. A warning to church leaders to step back and let men live and grow together, letting God be the judge at some final time. It is not the role of any man to sit in judgment of others. Each of us is but one small part of creation with our 16 sun2own growth and potential. It is a reason for mentioning the mustard seed, the smallest of seeds producing the largest plant, or the yeast that makes flour rise for the baker. All things need time to grow and develop and jumping to conclusions or being too quick to settle our sights or judgments might in the end be contrary to our call and mission and doing a disservice to our fellow Christians. God is 16sun3the one to judge. Remember, Jesus taught about relationships and love and forgiveness and mercy toward each other. His church was for him a community of women and men serving and loving each other. The disputes and turmoil and judgments of the early community led to some discussions and lessons about judging, most likely over the questions of the gentiles entering the church. Unfortunately, it seems to have become a lesson for the ages as in one way or another we all seem to be quick sometimes to judge.