Homily August 20, 2017- the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

20 sun2Today’s gospel is kind of remarkable in that it gives us a look at something that has plagued humanity for a long time. The Mediterranean world was a tribal world and in many ways closed itself off from outsiders. As a result, in this passage, we see Jesus reacts to the woman, an outsider, in an almost harsh way. He says his mission is to Israelites and basically calls her a dog. Yet ultimately, Jesus sees and understands that the woman’s faith and perseverance makes her a follower and he grants her request. This 20 sun3Gospel I think has a lesson for our present time. For the past couple centuries, our nation has been a place of settlement and refuge for people from different parts of the world. Whether voluntarily or involuntarily our population has grown and people have been able to live in relative peace. Science has made popular the tracing of ancestry through a 20 sun4person’s DNA. In my own case, I was surprised to find that I was 2-3% Asian. My point is that the human race is really one and that no matter where our ancestors started out, here we are.

Christ came and as God created the whole world and all and everything in it, so Christ was born and lived and died and rose for every human ever created. His love has and does embrace everyone. Through the centuries, both before Christ’s time and after it there has been evil and bad things 20 sun5present in the world. The freedom which was imparted into humanity to make their own choices, has at many times been a trial and tribulation for humanity. Choosing not to love as God has ask is to deny him and be in sin. Even then, through the graces of Christ, his love shows mercy and forgiveness when sought out. Never has Christ’s love and message needed more to be preached and shown to the world than when humanity’s choices seem unfortunate and wrong. Christ’s love is with us still and always, we must be strong and show and share that same love.

Homily August 13, 2017, the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

19 sun5 (2)Today’s gospel is interesting, but first we should see that with the Transfiguration we missed the death of John the Baptist in the previous week’s cycle. At that time he wanted to be alone and withdrew to a quiet place only to be followed by the crowd. He ministered to them and sent them away and sent his Apostles across the Sea of Galilee. Like all of us, He obviously needed some time alone to think and to interact with his 19 sun4Father. In times when our hearts are troubled or some crisis needs to be absorbed, most people seem to retreat for some solitude and even prayer. Elijah in the first reading did that. 19 sun3As he waited for Yahweh, a storm came and an earthquake came but God was not there. In a quiet whisper he hid his face as God was there. But in the Gospel, we see Jesus finish his time of solitude and set out to catch up with his Apostles. A storm had come up and the boat was being tossed about and the Apostles were afraid. More frightening for them was to see Jesus approaching them on the water. It was like a ghost approaching them. In fear they cried out, only to be assured that it was He who was there. It is then we see Peter at Jesus call walking to Jesus and then starting to sink. 19 sun2A startling reminder that faith even in Jesus presence gave into doubt when human thought doubted the intervention of Jesus. Faith requires a constancy of thought and perseverance. In Matthew’s account of this, we see that the faith of all brings them to to declare that Jesus was the Son of God.

To be learned today are a couple of things. First would be that at times we need to withdraw or stand aside for some time and prayer. Rest and refreshment is good for our spiritual side as well as our physical side. A second thing though is to realize that God can come at that time of crisis and be a partner as we weather whatever storm there is. Unlike Peter, we should not give into doubt or fear, and should always maintain our faith and perseverance regardless of what is ahead. This has and will be Jesus message as he still goes up to Jerusalem and what lies ahead. He knows His Apostles’ faith will have them sink like Peter, yet like Peter they will be rescued by Jesus own love and resolve.

Lights, Sounds, Visions: Transfiguration

Transfiguration 8-6-17

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Ps: 97:1-2, 5-6, 9; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Matthew 17:1-9

In 2017, Americans are not ones to talk about visions. In fact, if someone even talks about a dream they had, it seems kind of odd.  We like scary books, we like science fiction, and we like our movies loaded with special effects.  But when we mention visions, or the mystical, or we mention a Saint who had visions, someone inevitably rolls their eyes or starts making woo-oo sounds, like a silly old ghost movie.

Our Gospel today has that one little word that I never really noticed before, and hadn’t really taken into account. The last sentence was Jesus saying, “Don’t tell the VISION to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

I can’t think of ever hearing a homily that didn’t treat the Transfiguration as an actual event, the kind of thing you could calendar, google a map for. For sure, Matthew collected every bit of symbolism he could from traditional sources. Examples: the mountain (being higher up makes you closer to God- mountains are almost always the site of important theological events); brilliant lights and white garments (found in most near-death experiences); overshadowing cloud (protecting you from seeing God).  Of course, Moses is the symbol of the Law, while Elijah is the prophet of all prophets.  There are 3 apostles, symbol of the divine Trinity, and a repeat of the voice of God from when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.  Peter suggests 3 booths, or tents, to bring Jewish liturgy of the Feast of Tabernacles in to the mix, recalling the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.  You can find all this and more in Matthew 26:37, Exodus 24: 12-18, 1 Kings 19: 8-18, Daniel 10:6, Revelations 4 and 9, Leviticus 23: 39-42, Matthew 3: 17, Deuteronomy 18: 15, Daniel 10: 9-19, as well as in historic Jewish writings on the Last Days which were not included in the Old Testament.

I think it is crucial that we are able to accept that some religious experiences are not the same as “normal” every day life. Perfectly sane and stable people have visions, which are a way for the brain to interpret events and facts beyond their imagination in ways they can relate to.   It is really important to not expect that the Bible gives us a detailed video-style account in every passage.  The Gospel writers, like Matthew, had a purpose for writing – to record the oral history of Jesus as the eyewitnesses died out AND give us certainty for our faith.  The object as stated in our second reading, is to let us know that Jesus was not a “cleverly devised myth”, but real, and the Christian message is “altogether reliable.”

So our primary job is to determine the message the Gospel writer wants to give us. Just from the words used to describe the scene, I think it is fair to say that Matthew wants us to know that while Jesus was a humble itinerant Jewish preacher to his contemporaries, Jesus is also the Son of God; his teachings are divine wisdom, and his miracles are acts of God.  Also, since Matthew has placed the Transfiguration in between Jesus’ 1st and 2nd predictions of his suffering, death and resurrection, we need to take special care to view those events in the light of Jesus’ divinity and God’s plan for his people.

By extension, the crucifixion is not shameful, but instead becomes a divine gift and an entryway to holiness for all people who are fully aware of their sins, their un-retractable actions of hurt and pain to others, their crimes and failings. Crucifixion was supposed to put an end to the idea that the actions and teachings of this unique and charismatic teacher could be implemented.  Crucifixion was designed as a powerful barrier to following Jesus’ teachings.

But now all can draw strength and courage from his suffering and death. The Transfiguration would be that vision that would be forever burned in the memory of all as God-given proof of who Jesus was and what he had done for us.  Matthew presents it as the pivotal point of change in lives and attitudes.

Jesus, then, has foretold his resurrection, and dies making clear that death itself has been overcome. If Jesus had such confidence in God’s desire and ability to turn senseless violence and suffering into triumph, then why should anyone else fear to follow his footsteps?

The Transfiguration is so very much “not normal”; it is so very much designed to startle us and get our attention. It is like a gigantic heavenly spotlight, giving us light, sound, and visuals; we get a clear view of who Jesus is. It sets our understanding straight.  St. Peter’s letter makes a point of testifying to the power and coming of Jesus as real; His majesty and divinity are real.  Those moments of seeing Jesus in Glory were designed to provide confirmation, certainty, hope and proof.  God has the last word: Listen to him!

Homily August 6, 2017 the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

trans 4Today’s gospel of the Transfiguration is from Matthew. Luke’s account is read in reading cycle 3 in Lent leading up to Christ’s passion. We also see today in the second from 2 Peter that the author writing in the tradition of Peter gives an eyewitness account to “this is my Beloved Son”. Why Jesus chose just three of his Apostles is not completely clear, but in some way he was preparing them for what was to come. The meeting with Moses and trans 3Elijah was very significant because of their place and importance in the history of the Jews. Jesus shining face was alluding to His place and his coming ascension to the Father. The idea of visions was not unknown in the Jewish tradition. The fear of the Apostles, we see assuaged by Jesus plus his charge to keep the whole thing secret for the time being.

For us, I think we can see as we look at all three readings that we are looking at Christ and our savior teacher and also as the resurrected-ascended Son of God. Clearly, it is a celebration of our faith and an affirmation of Jesus and his teaching us the way. It is another way of affirming: “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”

Homily July 30, 2017 the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

17 sun1

The big score, the big treasure, the big jackpot is in some way a dream of many of us. All around us, we see ads for lottery, and casinos and all kind of contests promising a prize of some kind. We see rewards. Miles and all sorts of gimmicks. In Jesus’ time, there were no banks and people’s valuables and treasures would be buried for safety and later 17sun3access. If a landowner died, the treasure could remain and be unknown until found. The finder would try to purchase the land to make his find his own. So Jesus is telling us today that there is a dreamer in all of us to some extent. The treasure he speaks of is himself and of course his Father and the Holy Spirit. It is a treasure of everlasting life of union with Him. The price is the gifting of ourselves in believing 17 sun5and loving and committing to his word. It is a whole new way of looking at relationships and thew world and loving and caring for all. God after all is creator of all and looks after his creation as only a loving creator could. His love brought his presence to us of His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is through them that we can find the way and be with them forever. In this case, our treasure is real and our pursuit is one that should encourage and drive all the days that we have. Jesus’ life and death and resurrection were real, and so is our pursuit of the same life Jesus offers us with eternal life.