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Homily: The Resurrection of the Lord [B]

you say: okay, so what? I’ve head that type of story before. What does it matter to me? Why should I care? And that’s when Paul would answer: yes, Jesus has been raised from the dead and God is concerned with bodies. God is concerned with justice. God is concerned with cleaning-up the mess of the world. Here is what we are doing, do you want to join us?
John Dominic Crossan

The readings for the The Resurrection of the Lord cycle B (John 20:1-9) can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that John’s Gospel developed many characters. Some of these characters were introduced at the beginning, like Nicodemus. The last character John introduced was the disciple whom Jesus loved, or the beloved disciple. This disciple plays a prominent role in Sunday’s Gospel reading. The beloved disciple was the first to believe in the resurrection.

Since the beloved disciple represents the ideal model for a follower of Jesus we are expected to emulate the beloved disciple and carry out the work of Jesus. In order to emulate this model of a follower of Jesus we are expected to believe in the resurrection.

On Easter we can expect to hear from the pulpit a message of the resurrection. Val Webb, in her sermon Examining Doubts at Easter, tells us that “we are finding we need to tell the Easter story and the transformation of Jesus’ followers in different language and ways.” She says that “many people have trouble today with the resurrection as a condition for belief.”

What I needed was someone to assure me that my doubts were valid — for a clergy person one Easter to address my questions from the pulpit, not simply repeat the biblical soup story as if there was nothing to question, or avoid the discussion altogether to avert the anger of some literalists in the pews.
Val Webb

If we are concerned with the physical resuscitation of the body of Jesus we have missed the point John was making. If the resurrection, in order to be real, requires us to see the physical body of Jesus in order to believe we are not emulating the ideal model of a follower of Jesus.

The beloved disciple is truly our model for being a follower of Jesus. When we read the Gospel carefully we will notice that the only thing the beloved disciple saw was an empty tomb. If there were no other resurrection stories recounting visitations of Jesus it would not matter to the beloved disciple. The empty tomb was enough. What does belief in the resurrection really mean?

Val Webb tells us that “what we can be sure of is that some transforming experience happened to the disciples and Paul after the death of Jesus that forced them into a new way of living, a call to new life.” This experience after Jesus died that transformed the disciples is the real resurrection.

We experience the resurrection when we follow the teachings of Jesus. When we love our enemies and turn the other cheek we are experiencing the resurrected Jesus in our lives and that resurrection is then reflected back to others. As long as we continue loving our neighbors as we love ourselves the resurrection of Jesus is real.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that the resurrection of Jesus, while not physical, is real. Don’t become distracted by arguments for or against the physical resuscitation of the body of Jesus. Allow the message of Jesus to transform your old life and call you into a new life with the resurrected Jesus.

Death did not stop Jesus from transforming our lives, and through us our world. The kingdom of Heaven on Earth is within our grasp and within our control. This is the reality of the resurrection.

God bless,


Homily: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

“In communion with Him and with one another, let us discover once again where and for whom the Lord is calling us today to serve in His name.”
Sr. Mary Sujita (9th Superior General of the Sisters of Notre Dame)

The readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle B (Mark 1:29-39) can be found here.

The scripture scholars understand the healings and exorcisms written in the Gospels through the discipline of “Form Criticism.” Scholars will tell you that the formulaic structures of these stories indicate use in liturgical settings, such as synagogue worship services. These stories of healing and exorcism fit well with the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, and perhaps they were written and used for just this purpose.

Mark Allan Powell tells us in his book Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee that “the healings and exorcisms were experienced as an incursion of otherworldly power. Historically, we must acknowledge that Jesus presented himself as a person through whom such power could and did operate, and that those around him experienced him as a channel of such power. The fact that the power was said to operate for healing is also significant, for it indicates what sort of spirit person Jesus was.”

What sort of spirit people are we?

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.
Mark 9:38-40

In the healing traditions of the Catholic Church we have something called Extreme Unction. The words may sound strange to you, but you know them by another name; Last Rites, or Anointing of the Sick.

Richard Rohr called Extreme Unction a “sin management system” because we tended to use the anointing as the last chance to get things right with God. Healing does not have to be a last ditch effort. We are called to heal and in the process transform ourselves and our communities.

Extreme Unction may be as close as we get to experiencing the healing touch of Jesus, and it is sad that it only comes at the end of our lives.

Megan McKenna, in her book Tasting the Word of God: Commentaries on the daily lectionaries, tells us that “the disciples have seen Jesus heal, and now they are sent out to the villages with the authority to heal and cast out any spirit that hinders people from living as the children of God, imitating his own work.”

Megan also reminds us that “as believers, this is our work, our calling together – some for a lifetime, others for a time of apprenticeship and learning, others to encourage and sustain those on the road for the Lord.”

So, this is our work as believers, and if we are going to imitate Jesus and heal people, we are going to get our hands dirty. This is not something we can add to a list of prayer intentions or names of people we pray for during hourly adoration. No, if we are going to imitate Jesus we need to recognize those people in our lives that need healing and offer the compassion of Jesus.

Another item to note; Jesus did not heal only those who were Jews. There was no litmus test for people to be deserving of healing. Jesus didn’t even require people to believe in God before they were healed. If we are going to imitate Jesus we are called to heal Atheists as well as Christians.

A man asked Rabbi Hillel to teach him the entire Torah, the five books of Moses, while standing on one foot. And Hillel did.

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That’s the whole Torah, he said. All the rest is commentary. Now go and study.
Modern Lessons From Hillel

If you ask, how do I heal those around me, the answer begins with compassion. We need to eliminate our emphasis on being right and replace it with compassion for others.

If you take one thing from this homily it should be to search your heart and ask yourself what is painful to you, then never bring that pain to somebody else. That is the sort of spirit people we are called to be.

It will not be easy because we have created lepers and outcasts in our society and we are encouraged to treat those people with injustice, inequality and lack of respect. Some of our religious leaders have institutionalized injustice, inequality and lack of respect, but we can always turn to Jesus for our example.

I pray that when you hear words of violence, hatred, or disdain for others that you will remember instead those stories of Jesus healing the sick and respond with compassion.

God bless,

Homily: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

Perhaps we could spend some time examining our preconceptions about whom we consider “worthy” of leading or teaching us. How do we even begin to look at one another with the eyes of God, to see in the most unexpected of people those whom God has chosen to lead?
Kate Huey

The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle B (Mark 1:21-28) can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that the scribes taught through the words and deeds of Rabbis and the OT scripture. This is where they derive their authority.

Jesus, unlike the scribes, did not teach by leaning on the authority of the Jewish establishment. Jesus taught by his own authority, and the people were amazed.

The scripture scholar will also tell you that Jesus’ teaching was more than mere words. Jesus taught through His healing deeds. Healing the man with the unclean spirit is one of the many healing stories of Jesus and healing is a significant theme of Mark’s Gospel.

They point to the very prominent role that healing plays in the Gospel records. These stories also deepen our understanding of Jesus’s message, showing that God’s healing action can come through human instruments used to usher in the Kingdom of God.
Francis Geddes (Contemplative Healing: The Congregation as Healing Community) p. 21

What does it mean to be a healing community? Just like Jesus, we need to place healing people’s suffering at the center of our deeds. Our communities must be grounded in compassion for all creation.

In the Gospel account for this Sunday, Jesus didn’t look at the man to determine if he was worthy before healing him. We are asked to heal those we disparage, judge unacceptable or as unimportant without assessing worthiness.

People who are broken, entrenched in poverty, suffer from violence and injustice need our love and healing.

This is not something we can simply add to our list of intentions at Sunday Mass. It is not something we can hand-off to the parish priest. We need to perform the deeds, just as Jesus did. If we are successful people will be amazed and wonder under what authority we teach and heal.

“Ye cannot live for yourselves; a thousand fibres connect you with your fellow-men, and along those fibres, as along sympathetic threads, run your actions as causes, and return to you as effects.”
Reverend Henry Melvill

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that our communities are a source of God’s healing power. We are asked to look around and see who in our lives needs healing. In our compassion and through our Church we can be an agent of healing for those who suffer. Jesus showed us the way, and now it is our turn.

God bless,

Homily: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

Just when we think we know, there is something to face that we never expected and did not take into account. There is the call to discipleship and to catch people in the net of the Kingdom; the call to deny one’s very self and take up the cross that is laid on us by our sharing the truth and sufferings on behalf of justice; and there is the call to community in the Resurrection.
Megan McKenna (Mark My Words!)

The readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 1:14-20) cycle B can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that Mark foreshadows the passion of Jesus with the arrest of John the Baptist. John preached repentance and Jesus’ message of good news about the kingdom of God echoed that theme.

The main thrust of the Sunday Gospel deals with the call of the first disciples. The message throughout Mark’s Gospel is that God’s kingdom will require us to refashion our lives. There can be no greater model of acknowledgement for us than the call of the disciples.

The historian will tell you that to say fishing was a major industry in Galilee, at the time of Jesus, would be an understatement. The economics of Galilee was built around fishing. Mark tells us that the first disciples to be called were successful businessmen who owned nets and employed other fishermen. The cost of discipleship is clearly on display.

Jesus called these four fishermen into an entirely new way of being. It wasn’t based on study or theory or right interpretation. It was based on life and it was based on practice. People who fished were to become fishers of people. People who worked the land were to become laborers in the field of God’s harvest. Jesus would be their teacher not because he would teach them right doctrine but because he would show them a right life. It was a personal call and it was a specific call. Come follow me. Do what you see me do, speak like you hear me speak; imitate me. He would show them how to live and he would reveal the character of God.
Rev. Dan Holland United Parish of Bowie.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote an entire book on the cost of discipleship. In it he tells us that “discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend – it must transcend all comprehension.” To underscore this Bonhoeffer explains that “the will of God, to which the law gives expression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them.”

We are called to cast the nets of the kingdom and draw others to God. We must leave the comfort and security of our lives and follow Jesus. What we perceive as a good life is shaped by a society that is not built on God’s love.

We are not alone in this. The Gospel recounts many struggles the disciples of Jesus faced trying to reconcile their old understandings of life with those taught by Jesus. It is a lifelong struggle.

This Gospel reading reminds us that we are daily called to discipleship with Christ. We can answer that call if we say no to ourselves, and say yes to God.

If you take one thing away from this Homily it should be that God is calling us to change our lives. We need to shed our old understandings and to appreciate others as better than ourselves. We need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

I pray that you can follow the example of the first disciples and leave your old ways behind to follow Christ. Let Jesus take the lead, step where He steps and love how He loves.

God bless,

Love in the Season of Lent

Lent; the season of giving something up. In order to prepare for Easter I have always been instructed to give up something that I really enjoyed; a 40 day sacrifice for God. Growing up I gave up soda, chocolate and sundry other items to prepare for the Easter. My children had a discussion just the other day about what they will give up for Lent. As I grew in spirituality I had to come up with more creative and meaningful items that could be given up. One year I discovered something that would hold me for many years. I decided to give up time. Time was one of my most precious commodities. If I sacrificed some of my time it would mean the most. If I spent that time in prayer the benefit would be coming closer to God; win-win, as they say (whoever “they” are). This year, Pope Benedict XVI has asked us to sacrifice something that is worth even more than my time.

” Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works “.
Benedict XVI(Heb 10:24)

What does it mean to respond to others in love and good works? Part of my ministry has been focused on Christian Service. My first response to this call was to think about what I might do under the umbrella of Christian Service. This is not the response the Pope is looking for.

The Pope says “contemporary culture seems to have lost the sense of good and evil, yet there is a real need to reaffirm that good does exist and will prevail”. Good is whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion”. Concern for others means being aware of their needs and “the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sort of “spiritual anesthesia” which numbs us to the suffering of others”… We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness… The spiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advance inevitably regress. Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation, today as timely as ever, to aim for the “high standard of ordinary Christian living” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31).
Benedict XVI

Dear surfers, the call to reaffirm that good exists and to be aware of the spiritual needs of others has really stretched my understanding of Lent. A little soul searching is in order. Okay, I will have to admit that a lot of soul searching is in order. How do I begin to grapple with my own selfish ways? At what times do I lack concern for the spiritual needs for others and fail to reaffirm that good exists? It is very difficult to be honest with yourself regarding your own failings and this request is a difficult challenge.

“The Holy Father says [you need to] look at ‘the other’ with love – not with reprobation, not with condemnation, or simply accusation – but trying to life them up,” he told Vatican Radio. “We need to get out of ourselves, and see how we can help those who are around us, without in any way implying…that ‘I am holier than thou’ or ‘I am better than you’.”
Charles Collins with Father Gahl

The Pope went on to outline a three step plan. Actually, they are really three aspects that are needed in accomplishing our Lenten mission. Should you choose to accept this mission… I always wanted to say that.
1. This first aspect is an invitation to be “concerned”:
2. “Being concerned for each other”: the gift of reciprocity.
3. “To stir a response in love and good works”: walking together in holiness.

In the TV show Mission Impossible, Peter Graves had a team of people backing him up to complete the mission. Luckily for me, God has my back on this one. I accept the invitation to be concerned for the spiritual needs of others this Lent. I know right where to begin. I must get my head on straight first.

Let us remember also that the etymological meaning of “community” is cum-munio, that is, to share a common task together. To work together. Both inner work and outer work is what we do together. Both are needed especially at this time in history. Without the inner work we are lost. But with it, everything else gains brilliance as Meister Eckhart put it when he said: “The outward work can never be small if the inward one is great, and the outward work can never be great or good if the inward is small or of little worth. The inward work always includes in itself all size, all breadth and all length.” He also declared that when we return to our origins (which is the purpose of inner work) we learn that our work “draws all its being from nowhere else but from and in the heart of God.”
Matthew Fox September 18, 2011

The Pope used the word reciprocity to describe a gift associated with this process. The concern for others has to be genuine and mutually beneficial or it will not be satisfying. I am not very open to the correction of others, giving or receiving. I am a little gun-shy from years of Catholics telling me I should be ashamed of myself, or that I was Satan, or simply reciting the St. Michael the Archangel prayer at me. I have hope that many others have heard the call of the Pope during Lent and many mutually beneficial exchanges are possible.

And of course, community is also about friendship and tolerance, putting up with diversity and learning to delight in it. Some of the people who we may start out with as being tolerant may actually end up to be friends—and some we start out with as friends we actually end up to be a little more at the level of tolerance. But to celebrate the diversity is part of the lessons we learn in our community lives.
Matthew Fox September 18, 2011

We are to respond with love and good works. That is our charge during Lent. As I was reading the Lenten message from B16 something stirred in the back of my mind telling me that I had heard this before. Those familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas (the predecessor of Meister Eckhart) will recognize this Lenten prescriptive from the Pope to be associated with those found in Summa Theologiae. I will let St. Thomas Aquinas explain those attitudes that are directly opposed to love.

NOW WE MUST EXAMINE the vices opposed to love:
first, hatred which is against the very act of love;
second, spiritual apathy [acedia] and envy which are against the joy of loving;
third, discord and schism which is against peace;
fourth, offensiveness which is against neighbourliness, and scandal which is against fraternal correction.
Thomas Aquinas – Summa Theologiae (Thomas R. Heath, editor)

The Pope used the term “spiritual anesthesia” to describe the hardened hearts of people we encounter. The proper word for this condition is acedia. We don’t use this word much these days, and Acedia carries with it a much broader meaning than simply being spiritually numb. To to truly care for for others and walk together with them we will need to recognize acedia.

With acedia people are able do what they know to be right, but don’t care enough to take action – hence the derivation from akedia, or “not caring”. This is certainly at the root of the “whatever” we hear so frequently these days. Thomas Aquinas saw acedia as the opposite of spiritual joy. Effectively, acedia sets in when the flesh overwhelms the spirit, and the person is no longer “fighting the good fight” for spiritual health, as when we she cannot be bothered to pursue the daily habits that keep us at the correct operating frequency – tuned in to the right radio station, as it were… “The battle is in the mind.” Those in the grip of acedia can’t be bothered to fight the good fight in this world, much less on any higher plane(s). We are here to overcome the world, and stretch ourselves to rise above familiar conditions. However, in order to do so, we must engage with who we are, here and now… God only speaks to us through the heart; if our heart is jaded, we cannot hear that “small, still voice” – if our lives mean so little that we no longer see God’s truth in us. It’s important to have a grasp of reality, which means knowing who we are, and what we are here to do – what we would be doing if we hadn’t been trapped by false programming and negative thought patterns like acedia… The counterpoise to acedia is zeal: enthusiasm, spiritual joy, pleasure in what is praiseworthy and excellent.
Dr. Kyre Adept

The term used to describe helping others shake-off the effects of the vices opposed to love, such as acedia, is fraternal correction. The Pope has used these words often in 2011 and 2012, well, a few times anyway. If we are going to walk together in holiness we should understand the boundaries of fraternal correction.

As we have said, fraternal correction is to help a brother mend his ways, and to the degree it is accomplished that is a spiritual good. But that could never be accomplished if he takes scandal at the correction. If we omit to correct him because of the scandal he will take, we are not giving up a spiritual good.
Thomas Aquinas – Summa Theologiae (Thomas R. Heath, editor)

Not everybody we meet during Lent is a candidate for this gift of reciprocity and walking in holiness. We may come across people deep under the influence of acedia, but to any degree that we can bring spiritual zeal is a success. Some people we will have to skip entirely, as not to bring scandal. This will be a hard task. How can I offer my spiritual zeal without making people feel that I am somehow better than they are? I am, after all, a lowly servant. Dear surfers, I look to the lives of the saints for my strength and inspiration. When St. Francis hugged a leper, who was there to say that he was a show-off? Preach the Gospel every day, so it is said, and when necessary use words. Living by example is the place I will start.

We say we honor Martin Luther King. We put up this big stone monument and fight over it and all—cool. But the truth is, you don’t honor the ancestors by looking back. You honor the ancestors by imitating their courage. You don’t say, what did they do in 1960, or what did Francis of Assisi do in the year 1200? You ask, what would they be doing in the year 2011? Would they be as controversial and as wild and off-the-edge in our time as they were in theirs? Of course they would be! This is what made them memorable. They were all called. We’re all called to this kind of greatness today, because our species is slipping, and the whole ecosystem is slipping with us, and we don’t have the luxury of putting other people on pedestals. We have the responsibility to roll up our sleeves and to go to work with whatever talents we’ve been given, whatever communities we’ve gathered to encourage us, and whatever artists and spiritual leaders there are to inspire us and to kick us out of our couches.
Matthew Fox September 18, 2011