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Homily: Second Sunday of Ordinary Time [B]

Peter was, at all events, specially marked out from among the twelve, by being the first witness to Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5; Lk. 24:34); as the first of the Easter witnesses, he may be regarded as the Rock of the Church.
Hans Kung (Church) p. 456

The readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time cycle B (John 1:35-42) can be found here.

Scripture scholars will tell you that our Gospel reading comes from the first section of the Book of Signs where Jesus begins his public ministry by gathering disciples. Baptizing John completes his role as witness to the Messiah by declaring Jesus to be the Lamb of God and releasing his disciples to Jesus.

“We have found the Messiah.” The focal point for our homily today is the confession of Andrew and the summons to conversion of Simon Peter.

This summons to conversion is not just for Simon Peter, but rather for us all.

It all begins with the confession of Andrew. In this, Andrew represents the early Johannine community who confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. This is also reflected in our community today as the Church confesses that Jesus is Lord.

Our role is to be like Simon Peter, recognizing the witness of the Church as a summons to conversion and then to seek Jesus.

Theologian J. Rodman Williams tells us, in his book Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, that “Jesus doubtless saw what was in the man Simon… but He also perceived the Peter that Simon could become… Jesus’ faith was finally vindicated and Simon became the Rock of the early church.”

Bishop John Shelby Spong explains, in his book The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, that “we readers must recognize that Peter’s struggle is in fact every person’s struggle. He had been born of flesh years before. His ability to be born of the spirit would test everything his life seemed to mean and it would be an intensely difficult labor.”

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that the confession of Andrew; “we have found the Messiah,” is as relevant for us all today as it was in the 1st century.

We were all born of flesh and called to be born of Spirit through conversion as disciples of Jesus.

As disciples we are people who believe in Jesus, even though our faith may be inadequate. In this, Simon Peter represents us all. His struggle reflects our struggle. His success shows us that we too can answer the call to conversion.

Whatever is holding down our ability to be born of the Spirit can be overcome. Prejudice, bigotry, tribalism, triumphalism, xenophobia, partisanship, discrimination, etc., make up a partial list of things that hold down the Spirit. We are summoned to conversion, and Simon Peter can be our model. Though we may fail more than succeed we must never give up.

I pray you answer the summons to conversion and never give up.

God bless,

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Homily: Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome [A]

Jesus had been made to identify his body with the Temple… The function of the Temple, John argues, had now been taken over by the life of Jesus, whom the very defenders of the religious tradition of the past had crucified. God, however, had raised him up in glory.
– John Shelby Spong (The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic) p. 145

The readings for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome cycle A can be found here.

At the time the Gospel was written 40 years had passed since the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. Scripture scholars will tell you that the Johannine community interpreted the story of the cleansing of the temple as referential to the resurrection of Jesus. As is the custom in John’s Gospel the Jewish leaders take Jesus’ words literally and think He means to take down the brick and mortar structure and rebuild it quickly. Jesus explains that the new temple is found in the resurrection.

The Johannine community also held the words of Jesus in the same regard as they did the Jewish scriptures. Jesus quotes from Psalm 69 as He cleanses the Temple.

For zeal for thy house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult thee have fallen on me.
Psalm 69:9

The tenor of the Psalm is passionate support for the efforts of rebuilding the Temple, even if it means facing insults. The Psalmist uses the language of the present, as zeal has already consumed the Temple supporter. John has Jesus speak the words in a future tense. The passionate support for the rebuilding efforts will be reflected in the resurrection. We only need to look forward to the raising of Lazarus to find that future.

John’s Jesus says to Martha: I AM the resurrection and the life. The verb is present tense, not past or future. The power of Jesus’s message is the certainty of eternal life here and now, not there and then.
Sea Raven

This life we lead is our eternal life. There are people who will tell you about the promises of heavenly treasures. We spend out lives looking toward that last day, where we will see the promises of heavenly treasures fulfilled. Martha, like many people we meet, refers to the resurrection on the last day. Jesus tells Martha, and us, that He is the resurrection and the life today. We need to remember these words of Jesus. We are living our eternal life right now, and Jesus at this very moment is the resurrection and eternal life.

If we remember this message from our Sunday Gospel our lives will be profoundly different. All the words of Jesus, held in the highest regard along side the Jewish scriptures, come into focus and make sense.

Love God and love your neighbor have much more meaning to our lives today if we believe in the resurrection today. We need to be passionate about cleansing old notions of resurrection from our lives, our speech, our theology and our liturgy. Jesus created a whip and drove out the sheep, oxen and the dove sellers because they corrupted the Temple. That is our lesson this Sunday.

If you take one thing away from this homily; be consumed by the passion to support the resurrection in our eternal life today. For our salvation remind those people we meet, who’s resurrection is focused on the last day, that Jesus is the resurrection and the life – today.

God bless,

Homily: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Gospel living only begins with the invitation. It cannot remain a mere idea; its sine qua non [something indispensable] is a transformed life.
Richard E Spalding (Feasting on the Word: Season After Pentecost 2, Volume 12) p. 168

The readings for the twenty-eighth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A can be found here.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.
And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.

It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Isaiah 25: 6-9

The scripture scholar will tell you that this parable is an allegory. An allegorical title you may be familiar with is Animal Farm, by George Orwell. In Animal Farm, written in 1945, the story depicts events in history that lead up to the 1917 revolution in Russia right through to WWII.

The characters and places in the Orwell work represent actual figures in history and the same is true for our Gospel this Sunday.

The setting of the wedding feast represents the kingdom of heaven. The wedding feast is for the son of the king, and the son represents Jesus. The servants sent out to gather the wedding guests represent the Prophets who came to the Jewish people. The wedding guests who chose not to attend the feast represent the Jewish leaders who persecute Jesus. The guests that filled the hall represent the outcasts and those whose professions were despised by Jewish society, such as the tax collectors and prostitutes. The wedding garment represents repentance and conversion.

The central point of this parable revolves around the invitation. We must keep in mind that an invitation is a free act of kindness, and here, there is no obligation to invite people to the feast.

In many sermons there is a tendency to identify us Christians as the guests who filled the hall, while all those peoples who do not believe in Jesus do not receive an invitation.

It seems like comforting words for those Christians who are concerned about their salvation, but in reality we are the wedding guest who arrives without the wedding garment.

Matthew’s Jesus reminds us that the while the kingdom of heaven is filled with saints and sinners we are all called to convert from our selfish ways and repent. We must not be complacent in our faith lives as our salvation rests in our remaining converted to the teachings of Jesus and our good deeds.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3: 12-13

I live, work and pray in the Archdiocese of Detroit, and recently I was reading an article published through one of the Archdiocese social media outlets about etiquette during Mass. The article outlined items such as fasting for an hour and arriving early to recollect and prepare before Mass. I thought to myself that if I arrived an hour early I could kill two birds with one stone. Okay, I indulged in a little humor there, and as my daughter is want to say; very little humor.

As with all social media, readers are allowed to comment on the article. I read the comments to get a feel for what other folks think about the topic. I am rarely in a position to discuss these topics with others, and I can suffer from insular thinking by surrounding myself with only like minded people. It is good to expose yourself to people who have opposing positions, even if it tends to raise your blood pressure.

The reader responses continued to build on the theme of the article and discussion ranged from removing your lipstick before Communion to holding hands during the Our Father, to how to hold your hands in the proper prayerful way.

One comment was simply; remember to enjoy Mass.

In this sea of reader comments this one was the shortest and by far the most inspirational. This person saw through all the futility of those responders who were trying desperately through their selfish faith practices to please God. In one simple positive comment they hit the bullseye. What good are all those rituals if we can’t enjoy our community celebration.

Selfish pride will be our undoing. The Jewish leaders ignored the invitation of Jesus because their salvation was secured through their rituals. These rituals had been handed down from the time of Moses and nothing Jesus could say about loving our neighbor, the poor or disenfranchised could change that. The prevailing attitude was that those less fortunate people deserve what they get.

We can fall into the same trap and ignore Jesus because we have our rituals. If we feel that salvation is secured through our faith rituals, we are in danger of ignoring Jesus’ invitation. If we look upon people with disdain because they only attend Mass on Christmas and Easter, or fail to remove their lipstick before receiving Communion we are in danger of becoming the wedding guest without the proper wedding garment.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that we need persistent conversion and repentance. We need to be constantly on guard against our selfish pride. Our salvation is God’s doing, not our own. We cannot manipulate God through our perfect practice of worship rituals any more than those Jewish leaders could.

Our job is to accept the invitation to the wedding feast and put on the wedding garment of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another.

My prayer for you is that you can remember to enjoy the celebration of Mass, proper etiquette aside.

God bless,

Homily: Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross [A]

…in spite of our shortcomings we are accepted, and all we have to do is accept that acceptance and our lives will be changed from mere existence to real Life, from now on, everlasting life.
Ron McDonald (The Spirituality of Community Life: When We Come ’round Right) p.76

The readings for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross cycle A can be found here.

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is jam-packed with good news for us all. If you have ever been to a sporting event you may have seen fans strategically placed where the camera will capture their image holding up those iconic hand-made signs that simply read “John 3:16.” It is almost cliché to be seen holding a John 3:16 sign for a fan these days, but we all understand the message. That should be all that really matters.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Now that I have paid tribute to the blessed sports fans I would like to talk about the blessed healing profession. This Sunday should really be dedicated to those people around us who have dedicated their lives to healing us.

We have all seen the iconic medical image of a pole and around the pole is a coiled snake. Sometimes the image has two snakes and the pole has wings. No matter what image we might be familiar with when we see it we know what it represents; healing. The image is common but you might not be familiar with its origin.

“Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
Numbers 21:4-9

So the story goes that the Jewish people were off on their journey after escaping the Pharaoh in Egypt and they were grumbling about all the wandering. Did God bring them out of Egypt to die in the desert? My favorite translation says that they even detested the miserable food. Maybe it was the miserable food talking, but the people said some things against God that were ill advised.

As a result God sent them fiery snakes, so called because of the burning sensation the poison left after the bite. Naturally, the people hated the snakes worse that the food. Moses prayed to God and with the help of a bronze serpent on a pole those who were bitten could be healed. John chose this imagery to help us understand Jesus.

For the one who turned toward it was saved, not by what was seen, but by you, the savior of all.
Wisdom 16:7

The scripture scholar will tell you that Numbers 21 and Wisdom 16 tell the story of how the people turned toward God for salvation and healing. The Johannine community understood these old stories well and in the Gospel Jesus is connected with the saving image of the bronze serpent. Turn now toward Jesus for healing and eternal life.

John sees Jesus symbolically as the serpent lifted up on his cross, drawing the venom out of human life, restoring wholeness. It is a powerful image.
John Shelby Spong (The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic) p.92

Eternal life is not something we earned or even deserve. It doesn’t depend on special prayers or devotions. The Church we belong to makes no difference either. The color of our skin or our gender has absolutely no bearing on receiving eternal life. Try as we might, there is no secret handshake or other knowledge needed to gain it. If there is one thing to take away from this homily it should be that Jesus’ promise of healing and eternal life are ours to have, as a gift.

There is one thing we must do to allow Jesus to transform our lives. Accept the gift. Look upon Jesus, and live. The price for healing and eternal life is to simply accept the gift. Do we deserve it? That doesn’t even matter. Just accept it.

I pray that as we turn toward Jesus that we can learn to accept the gift of healing, wholeness and eternal life. I pray that each of us and our communities look upon Jesus and accept the gift. After all, what should we expect from God who is love?

God bless,

Homily: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

I think Jesus is inviting all of us into this sacred space that He once invited Simon Peter to step out into. It is the space between…between the boat and Jesus…between letting go and being taken hold of…between the familiar and the new and unknown…between control and agenda and dependence and detachment. It is a space that is both completely terrifying and unbelievably exciting. It is the space before your answer has come or our problem has been fixed.
Lindsay Tharpe

The readings for the nineteenth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that there were many myths in the Jewish tradition recorded in the Old Testament where God overcomes certain death on the waters. Scholar John Paul Heil coined the phrase “sea rescue epiphanies” to define this genre of story.

In this Gospel reading the dangerous winds are interpreted to represent the hostile forces that were against the Matthean community. Matthew calls out Peter specifically to represent the community and how the doubts of the community can be answered by having courage and faith. It is scary to step out into the unknown future and make yourself vulnerable to what might be out there. Jesus’ message of courage and faith was good for the Matthean community, and ours as well.

I thought I would go to the local parish Mass. We were reminded about seven times during the homily what sinners we were, how unworthy we were. All these educated people in this upper-class parish, largely professionals or retired, just sat there, numbly taking this, largely poker faced. Right at the end, he reminded them, of course, that he would be hearing confessions and take care of their sinfulness. Consciously or unconsciously he built a dependency system on himself and taught them helplessness. He did not empower us as Christians.
Richard Rohr

Jesus did not tell Peter to stay in the boat. Peter received encouragement to step onto the water’s surface. Jesus encouraged Peter to be courageous and perhaps make a mistake. Making mistakes help us to learn and grow. The Church hierarchy needs to take a lesson from Jesus from this Gospel and encourage people to step out onto the surface of the water. Our lesson from this Gospel is to have courage to break out of the helplessness imposed by the Church hierarchy and grow from making mistakes. Have faith.

my view is, as a kind of simple principle, that we’ve got to treat adults as adults in the Church. We now have in the United States the most educated laity the Catholic Church has confronted in 2,000 years of history. You can’t have a situation where men and women are in charge of their lives, treated as adults in corporations, universities, and politics, and are not treated as adults inside the Church… I do think that there’s a range of definable, discussible issues on which the laity need to say at the parish level and every other level, we simply won’t accept anything except adult conversation.
Fr. J. Bryan Hehir

If you want your children to grow up into mature adults you have to teach them the skills to navigate society and then let them go. The same goes for our faith. Church leaders need to allow people to grow up. Peter was being groomed for leadership of God’s community and Jesus encouraged him to take risks and make mistakes. That should be our model.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be to have the courage of Peter to step out into the unknown even if you have not been given permission by the hierarchy. Demand to be treated as an adult. Some people want to stay hidden and protected by the helplessness imposed by Church leaders, but that is not what Jesus asks of us. Jesus wants more from us and we should want more of ourselves.

Again, one preparing to sail and about to voyage over raging waves
calls upon a piece of wood more fragile than the ship that carries him.
For it was desire for gain that planned that vessel,
and wisdom was the artisan who built it;
but it is your providence, O Father, that steers its course,
because you have given it a path in the sea,
and a safe way through the waves,
showing that you can save from every danger,
so that even a person who lacks skill may put to sea.
Wisdom 14:1-4

God bless,

Homily: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

It seems to me that Jesus’ interaction with the crowds that followed him provides us with an example of the lesson that there is a time for self-care, but there is also a time for putting our own concerns aside and simply offering ourselves as channels of compassion for those around us who are in need.
Alan Brehm

The readings for the eighteenth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that this is not the only miracle around feeding others within Matthew (15:32-39). The people of the Gospel reading are believed to represent all of Israel. Jesus feeds the people of Israel reminiscent of the manna and quail of Exodus or the multiplication of the oil and bread in 2 Kings. It should be noted that the chapter 15 feeding miracle is believed to represent the feeding of the gentiles.

Aside from the symbolism of the multitude representing Israel and the 12 baskets left over representing the 12 tribes under the 12 apostles, there is symbolism that points toward the Last Supper. There is a lot packed into these few verses and the subject we are going to touch on is leadership in community.

… It was very bad news, and when Jesus heard it he withdrew in a boat to a lonely place apart, but when the crowds heard it they followed him on foot from the towns. He may have needed to be alone, but they had needs of their own. They were sick, they were sad, they were hungry, and while anyone but the son of God might have ordered them to get lost, Jesus had compassion on them. His heart went out to them…
Barbara Brown Taylor (The Seeds of Heaven p.49)

The disciples saw that many people had come to Jesus in their hope for healing. Some estimates are that 10 percent of the Jewish people of the time were there at the event. That is beyond a fair amount of people. The disciples were rightly alarmed about the logistics related to this many people, but Jesus did not send them away as the disciples asked. No, instead Jesus asked the disciples to take some initiative and become leaders. The crowd control seemed daunting but Jesus was teaching the disciples to have some self-confidence and care for the community. This would not be the last time the disciples would have to lead God’s community, so successfully managing this event would greatly increase their self-confidence.

I believe that Jesus was expressing a basic law governing human growth into spiritual maturity. As humans, we must grow from dependence on external authority to dependence on an authority that dwells within us.
Fr. John J. McNeill

As disciples of Jesus we are called to leadership in service to the community. The lesson for us today is that Jesus expects us to grow in spiritual maturity. When you see the needs of God’s community take the initiative to serve. Jesus’ example in the act of serving others is also the act of leading.

We are not centered in the particular events that happened over 2,000 years ago in a tiny outpost of the Roman Empire. We are centered in the life of the living, risen Christ as it is expressed through the life of community today!
Rt. Reverend Mary Douglass Glasspool

If you take one one thing away from this homily it should be to recognize the needs of others and put the care of others before your own needs whenever possible. Spiritual maturity will increase with every moment you take the initiative to be a leader in God’s community. Even a small act of service to another is enough. I pray that we all begin to understand that the success of our community relies on service. Our maturity and self-confidence helps us to achieve great things together.

God bless,

Homily: 5th Sunday of Easter [A]

“God is love” (1 John 4:16) and no person you meet could possibly be more loving than the Source of love itself.
Richard Rohr

The readings for the fifth Sunday of Easter cycle A can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that the Gospel was written around 95 CE and during that time the Johannine community was defining their identity. Helping to shape that identity were Jews from the Synagogue who were persecuting the community. Also, there was competing groups like the followers of John the Baptist, and other Christian communities with different christological beliefs.

John Shelby Spong explains to us that in this community “sixty-five to seventy years had now passed and Jesus had not reappeared. The persecution had not ended. The reign of evil had not been broken. So John changed the message and transformed the story of Jesus.” Over the next two Sundays the Gospel verses represent a part of the farewell discourses where Jesus explains that even though He is leaving He will always be with us.

The Spirit guides [the people of God] in truth and leads [the people of God] to salvation.[96] As part of his mysterious love for humanity, God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God. The presence of the Spirit gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively, even when they lack the wherewithal to give them precise expression.
Pope Francis I (APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION EVANGELII GAUDIUM)

I am raising three beautiful daughters, and although they are mostly grown as a parent I will never stop raising them. When they were younger each in turn, around the age of seven, would get into the car and ask “where are we going?” My wife and I never consulted the children when it was time to go to the store or to run some errand but they always wanted to know where we were going, as if it put their fears to rest. We would say “we are going to the grocery store” and that would be enough, usually. If we had to stop at the bank before the grocery store there would be hue and cry from the back if we didn’t layout the entire itinerary beforehand. Thank goodness those days are over.

As my daughters grew in maturity this need to know where we were going changed. John explains, through Jesus, that our spiritual growth and our understanding of God should mature also.

Jesus tried to reassure the disciples that they did not need need to worry and right away Thomas asked Jesus where he was going; “how can we know the way?” Today we might say “give me the address and I will put it into my GPS.” A small child may ask “where does Jesus live?” And, perhaps a small child today may have a GPS where they already saved the North Pole as a favorite location. Next location on the list might be heaven. Jesus didn’t print out a map for Thomas but explained that “if you know me, you will know.” Stop looking around at what is outside you and begin looking inside. Stop expecting to find the answers in an external place and let Jesus make a home inside you.

Whenever you have a return to solitude and silence, you know that there’s been a rediscovery of the contemplative mind. I think we should close down every pastoral program in a diocese and just teach our people how to pray. It’s the built-in therapy to let go of your addiction to yourself and to your repetitive obsessive thoughts, which just screws up just about everything.

Without the contemplative mind, which at this point in history we have to be taught, you simply don’t have the wherewithal to deal with great spiritual truths.
Richard Rohr

Philip, like Thomas, asks another question related to external realities; “show us the Father.” He wanted to see the physical proof of God. Maybe if they had cellular phones back then Jesus could have run through a photo gallery and that would be enough for Philip. We are not much different today. We flock to movies and buy books claiming to show that heaven is a real place. We assume somebody somewhere has the inside track and can show us the proof we need. It was the same way in the Johannine community. Once again Jesus directs the focus away from external evidence to internal evidence; “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Stop looking for proof from the world around you and begin to mature your sensus fidei.

The Church, therefore, does not accomplish this discernment only through the Pastors, who teach in the name and with the power of Christ but also through the laity: Christ “made them His witnesses and gave them understanding of the faith and the grace of speech (cf. Acts 2:17-18; Rv. 19:10), so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life.”
Saint Pope John Paul II (APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO)

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be to to become closer to Jesus through reducing our reliance upon external proof and growing a more mature spirituality. Don’t rely on your pastor to discern the message of Jesus for you.

I am going to make some Catholics angry with my next statement. Keep in mind that your reaction will be an indicator of your understanding of today’s Gospel. Going to Mass just to receive the Eucharist is an example of external proof that Philip was asking for. John’s Gospel does not include the Last Supper. I am not suggesting you abstain from receiving Eucharist, but to fully understand the Gospel message you need to know why you are receiving Eucharist. If you feel that Eucharist is the ultimate experience of Jesus perhaps you don’t know Him. If you rely solely on receiving the Eucharist to experience Jesus you will be forever asking “how will we know the way” and “show us the Father.”

I will leave you today with a quote from Fr. Richard Rohr. Take the Gospel to heart.

Without honest self-knowledge religion ends up, I’m going to say it, being more a part of the problem than the solution. I mean, we’ve seen it now for centuries, that people who call themselves Christian can be utterly racist, utterly sexist, utterly greedy, no questions asked.

Religion isn’t bad, but until religion becomes actual spiritual experience, it is just religion.

I think of the Catholic parents who’ve demanded that their kids go to Mass every Sunday, but then they’re sitting there themselves bored to death and hate every minute of it and walk out early and, I mean, the kids knows by [age] three, “This is not a good thing to go to Mass,” you know?
Richard Rohr

God bless,

Richard Rohr