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Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent [B]

God has saved the world and everyone in it in his own self, Jesus, the light and the truth of what it means to be human. What condemns us is whether or not we are human, whether we are about living the fulness of life, ensuring that others live that life also, or whether we prefer to shun the light and do evil and harm to others.
Megan McKenna “We Live Inside a Story” p. 125

The readings for the Third Sunday of Advent (John 1:6-8, 19-28) can be found here.

The reading this Sunday pulls a snippet from John’s Gospel prologue where the baptizing John is clearly defined as a witness who testifies to the light and not the anticipated savior of the Jewish people. Then the reading jumps to the beginning of the “Book of Signs” where Jesus will gather His disciples.

To fully understand the witness of the baptizing John we need to go beyond this Sunday’s verses to the events that follow. If we read further we will see that John will identify Jesus as the “Lamb of God” and then send his own disciples to Jesus. He humbly gives everything to Jesus.

The baptizing John had a specific role to play. Though he baptizes many people in the Jordan river he will not baptize Jesus. The role of this baptizing John is to bear witness only.

When the first group of Jewish leaders pressed John for an answer to the question of his identity, the Gospel writer put modified words from Isaiah 40:3 on his lips. In John’s Gospel there is no mention of preparing a way for the Lord. The man named John who is sent by God is simply to testify to the light.

What is the point of all this, we may wonder? Simply put, Jesus is everything that baptizing John is not.

Jesus was the word of God spoken to the world. The bearer of the word and the word itself must be seen as one. It is interesting to note that the word logos is never used again in this gospel after the prologue. It was, however, lived, and it is to the living of that word in the life of Jesus to which the prologue points.
John Shelby Spong “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic” p. 61

The Jewish leaders had Jesus in their midst and did not recognize Him as the word of God. Our focus this Sunday is to take the example of the man named John, who was sent by God, by recognizing Jesus and humbly testifying to the light.

We are being asked to live our lives in testimony to the life of Jesus, and to examine our lives this Advent to see if our actions make straight the way of the Lord.

If you take one thing away from this homily, understand that Jesus is in our midst and our lives are a reflection of how well we grasp this fact. We can model our lives upon the witness of baptizing John or those Jewish leaders.

We are human, so there will be times when our actions fail to testify to the true light, but forgiveness comes after repentance.

If we need to make a change, now is the time because our community depends on it. Dr. Roger Ray explains that the “Jesus story is real, and every time we tell it, we bring good news to the poor, we bring hope to those in despair, we shine a light in dark places, promising justice to the oppressed, the refugee, the homeless and the unemployed.”

I pray that this Advent finds you as a living testimony to the true light of Christ.

God bless,

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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: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

“A parable washes over you like a wave full of life and light, but an explanation–well, an explanation lets you know where you stand. It gives you something to work with, a tool with which to improve yourself and the condition of the world in general….”
Barbara Brown Taylor

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

The scripture scholar will point out that the parable in this Sunday’s Gospel is also seen in other ancient writings. It has been identified in some scholarly circles as a rewriting of Mark 4: 26-29.

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, 27 and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Mark 4: 26-29

Since 1945 and the rediscovery of the Gospel of Thomas, scholars have recognized this parable as Saying 57 in that Gospel.

Jesus said: The kingdom of the Father is like a man who had [good] seed. His enemy came by night and sowed weeds among the good seed. The man did not allow them to pull up the weeds. He said to them: Lest you go and pull up the weeds, (and) pull up the wheat with it. For on the day of the harvest the weeds will be manifest; they will be pulled up and burned.
Gospel of Thomas (57)

Regardless of where you read it, the message is clear; the kingdom of God is combination of good and bad people. Patience and tolerance should be our vanguard. Others will try to persuade you to act rashly, but we are to be stalwart in our reserve.

This Sunday the farmers are all either pleased we are speaking about growing a harvest or upset because they can’t seem to get away from shop talk. I apologize to the latter because we will continue the seed sowing theme. We have all heard the phrase; you reap what you sow. Scripture scholars will point out that these are the words of Paul in Galatians 6:7. This idiom is interpreted to mean that if you perform acts of iniquity, in turn you will receive the same. The reverse is also true. If you perform acts of love, in turn you will receive the same.

Jesus helped us understand in the parable of the sower that we are the sower and our role is to love wastefully. John Shelby Spong tells us that “a life defined by love will not seek to protect itself or to justify itself. It will be content simply to be itself and to give itself away with abandon.”

Today we hear Jesus again telling a parable of a sower. This parable finds that weeds have been maliciously planted among the good seed. We again are the sower in this parable and the good seed is the word of the kingdom of God. How often do we encounter other people in our lives who sow the seed of discontent? How often do we encounter other people in our lives who sow the seeds of malicious intent? How often do we encounter people in our lives who counsel us to withdraw from the world?

The wisdom of the sower shines forth in the parable as the sower does not take the advice of the servant to pull the weeds. Instead, when it is time to reap what has been sown the word of the kingdom can easily be separated from other words, and as John Dominic Crossan writes “he has both his wheat safe and some free kindling as well… his enemy is doubly outwitted.”

The word of the kingdom of God is so precious that to hold back and sacrifice that message, even the slightest bit, is not worth any benefit of removing the malicious words from our lives. We are to be content to simply spread the word of the kingdom of God in the midst of our community.

The true meaning of life lies in the community, in caring for the weak and sharing equally in the bounty of the land. All of this I learned from the indigenous world, from the poor and the peasants. They taught me the value of human life and shared their capacity to feel joy. They taught me how to laugh.
Bishop Raul Vera

If you take one thing from the homily it should be to live in the world and spread the word of the kingdom of God. Don’t be concerned that the message of God’s love is competing with modernism, materialism, or any other ‘ism because when it comes time to reap the fruits of the harvest the word of the kingdom of God will be easily separated from any competing words. Love God and love your neighbor. Love wastefully without regard for who is receiving the love. Our love, patience and endurance will enrich the kingdom of God on earth.

God bless,

Homily: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

O Christian, keep on planting God’s good seeds in the lives of those near to you.
Fr. Charles Irvin

You can find the readings for the 15th Sunday in ordinary time cycle A here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that the readings for this Sunday start the third great discourse in Matthew’s Gospel. There are seven parables and the entire conversation is focused on the kingdom. We know that parables are intended to teach and there are many throughout the OT and NT. I know from experience that understanding a parable can sometimes be confusing, so as a teaching tool today we will break down one of the parables of Jesus.

The Parable of the Sower is one of my all time favorite parables in Matthew’s Gospel. Most people read the parable and recognize themselves as the ground. The sower is God and we are the hearers of the word of the kingdom. This, however, is not the best understanding of the parable.

The parable is about the Sower, and the Sower is better understood to be each of us rather than God. You are the Sower in the parable. We are God’s representatives on earth, so in a way you could say the Sower was still God, but for all practical purposes you are the Sower.

The word of the kingdom is the seed and we know the word of the kingdom to be 1)love God and 2)love your neighbor. We deliver the message of God’s kingdom every minute of every day to everyone we meet.

Every moment of every day, a mother and father are teaching and guiding each other and their
children, while witnessing about their love to the world beyond their home.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap

This is what Jesus meant when he talked about the Sower. The parable also tells us that there will be those people we meet who will poorly receive the word of the kingdom. Not everybody is on the same path and open to the grace of God, but the Sower does not care where the seed goes. Some might say that the Sower is a little sloppy.

Why does the Sower spread the seed even in places where it cannot grow? John Shelby Spong said it the best; “I experience God as ‘the Source of love’ freeing me to ‘love wastefully,’ by which I mean to love without stopping to count the cost; without pausing to determine whether the recipient of that love is an appropriate recipient.”

“I love mankind … it’s people I can’t stand!!”
Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 5: 1959-1960

The Peanuts cartoon is meant to bring humor, but there is a kernel of truth that makes it funny. As the Sower our role is to hold back nothing. If we are to have the kingdom of God on earth, as we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, we must remember that we are the Sower and we spread God’s love around.

For years I have been giving myself out in words’ but ‘this new form of activity’ would not be merely talking about ‘the religion of love, but actually putting it into practice.
Albert Schweitzer

If you take one thing away from the homily it should be to remember that you are the Sower and are expected to get sloppy with God’s love. This has to be part of our lives, and must be second nature. This is a task that does not always require speaking, but it always requires the word of the kingdom today at this very moment.

God bless,

Homily: 3rd Sunday of Easter [A]

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Therefore, the goal is faith – faith to believe all that the prophets had spoken about the suffering of the Christ which precedes his entrance into glory.
Arthur A. Just (The Ongoing Feast: Table Fellowship and Eschatology at Emmaus, p.85)

You can find the readings for the third Sunday of Easter cycle A here.

Scripture scholars will tell you that this road to Emmaus story summarizes in a nutshell the first 23 chapters of Luke’s Gospel. The disciples first describe their joy and high hopes for Jesus who they believed to be the messiah. Then the disciples describe their profound disappointment at the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Then Jesus takes over the discussion and explains how his death had to take place to fulfill the scriptures. Still, they do not understand until the breaking of the bread. There you have it, Gospel in a nutshell.

My wife and I truly enjoy this story. We have a reprint of a famous painting by Robert Zund (Gang Nach Emmaus) hanging in our family room. We have even given a name to “the other disciple,” in the story. We call him TOD. I know the name is very imaginative, but we like it. I was concerned about writing a homily on this Gospel story because we have our own pietistic views that have surrounded this reading and we would like to leave it that way. That is how much we like this story.

The scandal of those last days in Jerusalem was not that Jesus was crucified, but that the disciples lost faith in what he had proclaimed. Jesus’ every word had been a promise of life, but the disciples fled when threatened with death. He had trusted utterly in God; but they feared other men. On the night before Passover, they abandoned Jesus to his enemies, just after sharing with him the cup of a fellowship that was supposed to be stronger than death.
Thomas Sheehan (From The Fourth R, Volume 14-4, July-August 2001)

My wife and I came from the same background and we have grown in spirituality over the 30 plus years we have been together. We both recognized a bit of ourselves in these disciples and chief among those attributes is the courage to go back to Jerusalem. Our hearts still burn within us at the teachings of Jesus and we find the courage to grow with the help of the Spirit. We see many people in our faith community who, like the disciples, have great love for Jesus. They are good people who we love and they are too afraid to go back to Jerusalem so they choose to stay in Emmaus, figuratively of course. Many hold onto personal piety or the hierarchical party line at the expense of growing in the spirit of Jesus. They have been sitting at His table in the meal but the courage does not come.

…the Kingdom is already a present reality, in the person of Jesus. In Jesus the Kingdom is made present, and the meal at Emmaus with Jesus suddenly taking over as host is an eikon [image of the heavenly things] of the Kingdom; the disciples are indeed now feasting at his table in the Kingdom.
B.P. Robinson (New Testament Studies; Volume 30; Issue 04; October 1984)

Cardinal Dolan, in an Easter interview, said to the LGBT community “Well, the first thing I’d say to them is, ‘I love you, too. And God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness. And – and we – we want your happiness. But – and you’re entitled to friendship.’ But we also know that God has told us that the way to happiness, that – especially when it comes to sexual love – that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally…”

This response from Cardinal Dolan is a perfect example of how the Emmaus story can teach us how to live today. Reread the quote and every time Cardinal Dolan uses the word “AND” think about those disciples sitting with Jesus and listening with their hearts burning within them. Every time the Cardinal uses the word “BUT” think about the scandal of the disciples fleeing for fear of death. The kingdom is present in the person of Jesus and the Cardinal recognizes he is feasting at the table so why must there be any “buts?”

“The world needs a reformed, critically-minded Christian church, renewed in the humility of its own incompletion, the humility of all that it does not know.”
James Carroll

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that with Jesus there are no “buts.” John Shelby Spong has taught us that we should “’love wastefully,’ …to love without stopping to count the cost; without pausing to determine whether the recipient of that love is an appropriate recipient.” If we can do this we, like the disciples in the Emmaus story, will find ourselves back in Jerusalem witnessing to the resurrected Jesus in our communities.

God bless,

Homily: 4th Sunday of Lent [A]

I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends and myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that none of them are like this.
C.S. Lewis

The readings for the 4th Sunday of Lent can be found here.

If you are looking for better readings for the 4th Sunday of Lent you will find them here.

The historian will tell you that after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE that the Jewish world spread out in what was referred to as the Diaspora. This meant that there were more Jewish people living outside their homeland than were living in it. The Jewish people also had a history of maintaining their identity and piety in times of exile, so this time was no different. They adapted to some of the prevailing culture, such as translating the Hebrew Bible to Greek, but when Christianity became a threat to the Jewish traditional faith it was no longer welcomed in the Synagogues. This set the stage for the reading this Sunday.

The scripture scholar will tell you that healing the man born blind is the sixth sign in John’s Gospel. As such, it is now the blind man who takes on the role of witness to Jesus. He shows that God works through Jesus and he is not what the Jewish authorities have been accusing Jesus of being. The blind man is also an example for the Johannine Christian community on how to act in the face of hostile authorities. Since the leaders of the Synagogue were expelling the Johannine Christians there was more than a bit of hostility in their time. John Shelby Spong tells us in his book The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic that “this narrative seeks to describe the feelings of the excommunicated ones by telling this story as if it had happened in the life of one called ‘the man born blind.'”

I see the grand statements about Jesus – that he is the Son of God, the Light of the World, and so forth – as the testimony of the early Christian movement. These are neither objectively true statements about Jesus nor, for example in this season, about his conception and birth. To speak of him as the Son of God does not mean that he was conceived by God and had no biological human father. Rather, this is the post-Easter conviction of his followers.
Marcus Borg

What message do we hear in this Gospel reading for our lives today? It is a rather long reading and a compelling story, but there is a lot happening. The obvious message is that there are times we are like the blind man, unable to see and in darkness. Once we accept the message of Jesus a light is revealed to us and we can suddenly see. This is how John saw the members of the Synagogue. Since the Christians were getting kicked out folks had to make a choice to stay or leave. Either you remained in darkness and held fast to the old Jewish traditions or you stepped into the new light of Jesus. It was an anxious time and yet exciting also.

As Christians we face similar decisions each generation. The issues for my parents generation revolved around civil rights and race discrimination. I am sad to say that I grew up in Detroit and my parents speak about the riots of 1967 as if they were something they read in the newspaper instead of having lived through it. During Lent in 1967 what light did the message of Jesus bring to bear on those old racist attitudes? How many times did Catholics rail against civil rights changes such as interracial marriage (speaking on behalf of God)?

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
Judge Leon M. Bazile 1958 (devout Roman Catholic)

It was an anxious time and yet exciting also. Does this quote shock you? Does it remind you of something we are facing in our generation? Once the light of Jesus shines in the darkness of our blindness we have a choice. Like the man born blind when Jesus opens our eyes it is now our task to witness to Jesus. There are many Catholics who claim to see, but are indeed still blind.

Marriage is and can only ever be a unique relationship solely between one man and one woman,
regardless of the decision of a judge or future electoral vote. Nature itself, not society, religion or
government, created marriage. Nature, the very essence of humanity as understood through historical
experience and reason, is the arbiter of marriage, and we uphold this truth for the sake of the common
good. The biological realities of male and female and the complementarity they each bring to marriage
uniquely allows for the procreation of children.
Statement from Catholic Bishops Regarding U.S. Judge’s Decision Overturning Michigan’s Voter Approved Marriage Amendment

How is this recent message from the Bishops of Michigan any different than the message of Leon Bazile? John reminds us that the sin of those Jewish authorities was disbelief in Jesus. If you take away one thing from this homily is should be that Jesus fought all discrimination in the Gospels. I won’t bore you by citing any Bible verses. I am guessing you already know them.

Lent is a time for searching our hearts and self-examination. Let the light of Jesus shine into our darkness to heal our blindness. If you find yourself discriminating against another person for any reason it is time to meditate on the light of Jesus. Accept the message of Jesus, and ask the Holy Spirit to bring wisdom to your decisions. Repent for your discriminations and pray that the Joyous Easter celebration will see same-sex marriages performed in our Cathedrals. It is an anxious time and yet exciting.

God bless,

Homily: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

“nothing is more useful than salt and sunshine.”
Pliny (First century Roman naturalist and writer)

The readings for this Sunday can be found here.

The Gospel this Sunday is rich on many levels. For a scripture scholar the Gospel themes of salt and light are metaphors repeated in Mark and Luke, and that light and darkness are also repeating themes throughout the Gospel of Matthew. For historians the Gospel may remind them that salt was used in Biblical times as a spice and a preservative, not unlike how we use it today. Those levels of understanding stand on the surface or drill down deeper than we need to on this Sunday. In this post we are going to focus on how we can take the Gospel message and live it every day.

And if God is the source of love, the only way I can worship God is by loving wastefully. Not setting barriers and counting costs and that sort of thing. Not saying, “Do you deserve it or not?” But loving wastefully. Therefore to be a follower of this God means you have to try to enhance the love that’s available in this world.
John Shelby Spong

Every day we go out into the world. Our world leads us to our families and friends, our work, our school, our volunteer services, and all the places we interact with other people. The Gospel tells us today that we have a duty to all those people we touch every day. Let them see your good deeds but perform them with humility. I am reminded of the quote attributed to Vince Lombardi, “when you get to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.”

Sometimes it is easier to explain the ways we can love wastefully, as the Gospel suggests, with a story. The story I have in this post is true and comes from Butte Montana. As you hear the story keep in the back of your mind the Gospel message and think about the good deed opportunities you have in your life.

“An unmarried teacher at a Roman Catholic middle school in Montana has been fired after getting pregnant, the Diocese of Helena confirmed.” Here we have a young woman teaching at a Catholic school who had been having sexual relations outside of wedlock and it was discovered because she became pregnant. The school, for their part, acted in a way they felt was justified based on Catholic moral teaching. The administration is quoted as saying she was an excellent teacher but that she violated her contract that requires her to live a Catholic lifestyle.

There you have it, surfers, the story for our homily today. It certainly seems to me that we now have a young woman who is not married and will soon have a child who is without a source of income. As an excellent teacher she will likely land on her feet and find work teaching at a government school, but how do the actions of the school align with the Gospel message?

I don’t want to seem harsh on the school administration because I am sure they would have kept the teacher, but they do run a business. Let me explain the business; parents send their children to the school to receive a sound moral foundation and if parents perceive a lack of moral fortitude on behalf of the school the admission levels will drop. The decision for the school can be seen as purely economic. As a parent of Catholic school children I feel some sense of responsibility for the environment where the school feels they cannot offer the teacher forgiveness. The good deed should have been forgiveness, but we parents setup the environment where this was not an option for the school.

You know from your own experience that if the school made the decision to keep an unmarried pregnant woman on as a teacher the community would talk. Parents would complain to the Bishop and some vocal minority would pull their children from the school. If this sounds like you, please read the Gospel once again.

If there is one action you take away from this homily it should be to perform the good deed of loving wastefully. Think about how you can bring people closer to God knowing that the ripple effect touches more lives than those you interact with daily. That is the message of the Gospel and the challenge of being Christian.

God bless,