There was a man who had two sons: A Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

030913This is a Gospel about a man who had two sons. And both of these sons forsook their father and refused to relive in relationship with him. Although, in our mind, both sons are very different at the level of personality, one outwardly rebellious, and the other outwardly obedient, inwardly, they have a very similar struggle. In effect, neither one of them really wanted a relationship with the Father. Both, in fact, preferred what their father had, to having their Father. Both look more to what their Father could bestow, rather than to their father himself.

In the end, one son repents and finds his way to the heart of the father. Of the 2nd son, we are not so sure, for the story ends before that detail is supplied. Why does the story not end? It does not end, because the story is about you and me, and it is we who must finish the story. And the question we must answer is, What do I really want?….the consolations of God, or the God of all consolation? The gifts of God, or the giver of every good and perfect gift?

Let’s look at this gospel in four stages.

I. Renegade Son–Most of us are quite familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son. Indeed, most of us focus on the first and obviously sinful son,  more than the second son. This is interesting, because it would seem that the Lord Jesus has his focus more on the second son. For, the parable is addressed to the scribes and Pharisees who see themselves as obedient. Nevertheless, lets observed three things about this renegade son, also known as the Prodigal Son.

A. Corruption–Here is an angry son, alienated from his father. He wishes to possess what his father has, but he wants nothing to do with his father. In effect he tells his father to drop dead. Yes, in effect he says, “Old man, you’re not dying fast enough. I want my inheritance now… I want to be done with you and cash in now what is coming to me.”

His astonishing effrontery is even more astonishing given where and when it happened. For, we live in times when reverence for parents and elders is tragically lacking. But if our times are extreme, those times in the ancient Middle East where the other extreme. In telling this parable as he does Jesus shocks his listeners who lived in a culture where no son would dream to speak to his father this way. Indeed a son could be killed by his father for such insolence! Even to this day, in many parts of the Middle East, so-called “honor killings” still exist. If a child brings dishonor to the family, it is not unheard of for the father to kill such a child. And while most governments forbid such practices, in many cultures people, while not preferring such extremes, will often look the other way, and governments will seldom prosecute such inter familial killing.

Thus, for Jesus to tell such a parable must have shocked his listeners. Here was a son who did something so bold and daring as to the unthinkable, as insolent as it was insensitive, ungrateful and wicked.

So hateful is this son that he will have to go to a distant land to live.  For even if his father does not kill him, his neighbors would surely set upon him and have him stoned for such insolence.

In even more astonishing detail, the father gives him his inheritance and allows him to leave.

Here is Jesus’ description of the patience and mercy of the Father who endures even worse insolence from us, His often ungrateful children; we who demand his gifts, grasped in them with ingratitude, and want what God has, but do not want Him. More of the Father in a moment. But what we begin with the portrait the deep corruption of this renegade son.

B. Consequences–The text says that the renegade son sets off “to a distant country.” For it is always in a distant country that we dwell apart from God. And the consequences of his action are great indeed.

This parable does not make light of sin. The Lord Jesus describes well a man who chooses to live apart from God and in sinful rebellion. The result is that this renegade son lives in anguish and depravity. Once he runs out of money, he has no friends, no family, and no experience of his father.

So low is he, that ends up looking up to pigs! So awful is his state, that he becomes hungry for the disgusting mash that pigs eat. Yes,  he is lower than an unclean animal, the most unclean animal that Jews can imagine, a swine.

Let us be clear, sin debases the human person, and if it’s effects are not averted, it orients us increasingly toward depravity. What was once unthinkable, too easily becomes common fair.

St. Augustine wrote of sin’s hold on individuals in the Confessions when he said,  For of a forward will, was a lust made; and a lust served, became custom; and custom not resisted, became necessity. By which links, as it were, joined together (whence I called it a chain) a hard bondage held me enthralled. (Conf 8.5.10).

And here is what we find the renegade son locked and the consequences of his sinful choices: debased, debauched, and nearly dead.

C. Conversion–Almost miraculously the text says simply of him, “coming to his senses at last…” Too many, especially today, suffer a darkened intellect due to the debasement of their sin. And it would seem, the no matter how debased, confused, and even enslaved, many people become,  they still do not come to their senses, for their senseless minds have become darkened (cf Romans 1:21).

But thanks be to God, the renegade son does come to his senses and he says, I shall arise and go to my father! In saying that he shall arise the Greek text uses the word anistemi,  which is the same word used to describe the resurrection of Jesus. His father will later joyfully described him as having been dead, but having come back to life.

St. Paul reminds us, that we were dead in our sins, but God made us alive in Christ (cf Col 2:13). Thanks be to God for the mercy of God and for the conversion that he alone can effect in all of us, his renegade children, who ourselves have been debased, debauched and dead in our sins. The conversion of this renegade son, we pray, is also our conversion, our rising and going back to the Father.

II. Rejoicing Father–the astonishment in this parable is only just beginning, for Jesus goes on to describe a Father so merciful as to be shocking. He ascribes to the father in this parable things that no ancient father would ever do. And as he describes this ancient father, so filled with love and mercy that he casts aside personal dignity to bestow it, we must remember that Jesus is saying, “This is what my Father is like.”

As the parable unfolds we hear that the father sees the son, while he’s still a long way off. This tells us that he was looking for his son, praying for and hoping for his return.

From a human perspective, such mercy is rare, and the average earthly person who is hurt and has had their dignity scorned, is usually resentful and avoidant, saying  “Never darken my door again!”

But how shockingly different this father is, lovingly and longingly waiting for the day when his son will appear on the horizon; looking for him day after day.

The text next tells us that, when he saw his son, he ran to meet him; something no ancient noblemen would ever do. For running was a sign of being in flight, or of being a slave on some errand. Further, in order to run, the ancients who wore long garments, had to bare their their legs. And this was considered, for nobility, a disgraceful thing. Only common workers and slaves would bare their legs in order to work.

Thus, here is the portrait of a father willing to debase himself in order to run and greet his returning son. When I take one step, God takes two; nay, he comes running!

The robe and the ring are signs of family belonging, or restoration. This is the full restoration of a young man who was willing to live as a mere slave in his Father’s house. But the Father will have none of it, “You are my son! And my Son you have always been, whatever your sins. They are forgotten. You are my beloved son!”

What kind of Father is this?! No earthly Father would behave this way. This is the Heavenly Father. Jesus is saying, this is what my Father is like!

III. Resentful Son–And now we look to the brother, the other son. His sins are more subtle. Outwardly he follows his father’s rules. He does not sin in overt ways. His sins are more hidden, his struggles more subtle.

Unlike his prodigal brother, it seems he has never openly rejected his father. But inwardly, as we shall see, he is not so different from his prodigal brother.

But like his prodigal brother, he wants his father’s goods, but not really his father. To understand the subtlety of his struggle, let’s look at some of the details of the story. Let us note the following fundamental issues with the resentful son:

1. Distant–It is interesting that the last one who seems to know the existence of the feast, and the reason for it is this reason is this second son. Here is the implicit picture of a son who is far away from his father, who was unaware of the happenings in his father’s life.

Off on some far-flung area of the property, one gets the sense that he is perhaps going about his duties, which he seems to fulfill. But there is also communicated to us a sense of distance.

Did this son not know that the father worried of his brother, and was looking for him each day? It seems not! But even the lowly slaves in the household are drawn into the preparations in celebration of this great feast at the return of the renegade son. It seems that he is the only one in the whole area who knows nothing of this party, and more importantly, of his father’s joy in the return of  his brother.

Yes, the resentful son is distant,  a thousand miles away from the heart of his father.

2. Disaffected–When this resentful son discovers the feast, and the reason for it, he is sullen, angry, and resentful. He is disaffected. He stays outside of the feast, and refuses to enter it.

So bitter is his resentment that the word reaches his father in the feast who will soon emerge to plead with him. Yes, here is a bitter angry and disaffected son.

But dear reader, do not spurn or scorn him, for too easily we are him. Too easily, do we die the death of a thousand cuts when some sinner finds mercy, so quickly are we envious when someone other than ourselves is blessed. Yes, so easily we die a thousand times over!

3. Disconsolate–the father emerges from the feast to plead with his son! Again, this is unheard of in the ancient world! Every ancient father would command his son to enter the feast and expect those commands to be immediately followed.

But this father is different, for he is the heavenly Father, a Father rooted in love more than prerogatives, and privileges. He has shown already his love for his renegade son. And now he demonstrates his love for his resentful son.

The fact is, he loves both his sons. Yes, he loves you, even as he loves me.

Tragically, the resentful son is unmoved by this love. He is disconsolate, he must be confronted in his resentful anger.

4. Disrespectful–And now we see the ugly side of the apparently obedient son. He does not really love or respect his father; neither does he really know him. He disrespects him to his face. He speaks of him as a slave master saying, “I have slaved for you… I have never disobeyed any one of your orders.

Orders?!?! I have slaved for you?? Where is his love for his father? He does not see himself as a son, but as an unwilling slave, one who follows orders, merely because he has to. In effect he calls his father, to his face, a slave master, a despot.

Further, he accuses him of injustice. Somehow, he sees the mercy for the renegade son as a lack of due mercy toward himself. He considers his father unreasonable, unjust, even despicable. How dare his father show mercy to someone that he, the “obedient” son, does not think deserves it!

Calling his father an unjust slave owner and taskmaster, he disrespects him to his face. But the father, as we shall see stays in the conversation, pleading with his son to reconsider.

5. Disordered. Among the son’s complaints is that his father never even gave him a kid go to celebrate with his friends. But pay very close attention here:  the goal in life is not to celebrate with my friends, the goal in life is to celebrate with the heavenly Father.

Note how similar the resentful son is to the once renegade son. At one point, the renegade son saw his father only in terms of what his father could give him, his father was only valuable in terms of the “stuff” he could get from his father.

But for all his obedience, this second “obedient” son, this resentful son, has the same problem. He seems to value only what his father can give him. It is not his father he really loves, or knows. It is the inheritance, it is the “stuff” that really concerns him. It is not really his father he wants, or knows, or loves. It is only what his father can give him.

In this, the resentful son is disordered. He misses the whole point, which is not the things of the father, but the relationship with the father. This is the point, this is the goal in life, to live with it forever with the Father in a relationship of love.

Be very careful, before you condemn this resentful son. For, too easily he is us. It is so easy for us to want the good things of God, but not God himself. We want God’s blessings, his benefits, but not His beloved self. We want the gifts, but not the God who is the giver every good and perfect gift.

Yes, the disorder of this resentful son is too easily our disorder. There is something about our flesh that wants God to rain down blessings, but having received them, we want to run and keep our distance from any true relationship with God. For relationships are complicated and dynamic. Our flesh prefers trinkets, prefers to receive gifts on our own terms. Our flesh says give me the priceless pearls, but begone with the powerful person who gives them.

IV. Response. The Father, is outside pleading with his resentful son to enter the feast. And then, abruptly, Jesus ends the parable. Yes, the story ends! Does the resentful son enter the party or not?! Why is the story left unfinished?

Simply put, because you and I have to finish the story. For we are so easily the resentful son.

Right now, that heavenly Father is pleading with you and me to enter the feast. Too easily we can brood and say, we have our reasons for not wanting to go into the feast. After all, that renegade son is in there, and my enemy is in there. If heaven involves meeting our enemy  and celebrating with him, too easily our flesh says, “I’ll have nothing to do with it!”

And here’s the great drama, will we enter the real heaven? For the real heaven is not merely a heaven of our own making, a heaven of our own parameters. Heaven is not a “members only” place.

Am I willing to enter on God’s terms? Or will I resentfully stand outside, demanding heaven is on my terms? Further, do I see heaven as being with the Father, or is heaven merely having the “stuff” I like?

The heart of heaven is to be with the Father, to be with the Trinity. The danger with so many, even the religiously observant, is to be the resentful son. Meanwhile, the Father is pleading, pleading for us to enter the feast, pleading for us to set aside our prejudices, and our notions of exclusivity.

To the resentful son who said, “this son of yours…,” the father says, “your brother,”  yes, your brother was lost and is found, was dead, and has come back to life.”

The Father is pleading for us to enter the feast, not some made-up feast where we ourselves simply choose the attendees, but the real, and actual feast of heaven, where some surprising people may be in attendance.

Will  you enter the feast? The Father is pleading!, Saying in effect, “come in, before it’s finally time to rise and closed the door.” How we’ll answer him what is your response.

This parable is unfinished, you must finish it, I must finish it. What is your response to the Father’s pleading? Answer him!

The Prodigal Son in the Key of F Major:

Feeling footloose and frisky, a feather-brained fellow forced his fond father to fork over the farthings and flew to foreign fields and frittered his fortune, feasting fabulously with faithless friends.

Fleeced by his fellows, fallen by fornication, and facing famine, he found himself a feed-flinger in a filthy farmyard. Fairly famishing, he fain would have filled his frame with foraged food from fodder fragments . “Fooey! My father’s flunkies fare finer,” the frazzled fugitive forlornly fumbled, frankly facing facts. Frustrated by failure and filled with foreboding, he fled forthwith to his family. Falling at his father’s feet, he forlornly fumbled, “Father, I’ve flunked and fruitlessly forfeited family favor!”

The farsighted father, forestalling further flinching, frantically flagged the flunkies to fetch a fatling from the flock and fix a feast.

The fugitive’s fault-finding brother frowned on fickle forgiveness of former folderol. But the faithful father figured, “Filial fidelity is fine, but the fugitive is found! What forbids fervent festivity? Let flags be unfurled. Let fanfares flare”

And the father’s forgiveness formed the foundation for the former fugitive’s future faith and fortitude.

Mercy and Patience Now, but sooner or later, Judgement must come. Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent

030213There’s an old Johnny Cash song that is rooted in today’s Gospel, a song that says,

You can run on for a long time, But sooner or later God will cut you down. Go tell that long tongue liar, go and tell that midnight rider, tell the rambler, the gambler, the back-biter, tell em that God’s gonna cut em down, sooner or later God’ll cut em down.

Now of course these verses of the song go right to the end point of judgement. But there is more to the story, a story of offered mercy and patience, but in the end there is a judgment.

We live in times that are dismissive of judgment, or that the judgment will result in anything but instant entrance to glory.

Today’s gospel contains a kind of necessary balance that speaks of God’s patience and care now, but also speaks of the day of reckoning, the day of judgment that must finally come when our decision is final and also adjudicated by God, and there will be no turning back.

Let’s look at this Gospel in two main parts:

I. The Proclamation of the Problem – The Gospel opens with the following lines:

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!

In effect what Jesus is saying is that is so easy for us to focus on the sins of others and fail to discern our own need for repentance and mercy. Before God we are all beggars, all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (cf Romans 3:23). Every one of us is in need of boatloads of grace and mercy. And while we may rightly distinguish that there is a difference here on earth in the sanctity of a Mother Theresa and the wretchedness of Hitler, yet before God we are all far short of the glory and holiness of God. We are all beggars.

Sin surely does have its effects in the lives of others and we are not asked to be blind to that. There is important truth in learning from the example of others, and we can learn form good example as well as bad example. But the point is to learn! We miss the point if all we do is stand around when someone suffers the effects of sin and say, “My, my my, God don’t like ugly!” Well then, if that be the case, what about the ugly in us? What about our own sin?

And thus to our all-too-eager question, “What about them O Lord!?” Jesus replies, “What about you? Stay in your own lane and work on your issues and leave their final fate to me. Judgement and punishment don’t just come others, if you don’t watch out, they will come to you as well.” And just to make sure we get it the Lord adds: [And] I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!

In effect, the Lord tells us to get serious about our sin and what it can do to us. The most serious problem in life is not the manner of our death, or even that we physically die. The most serious problem we face is not Pilate, or any political misfortune; it is not falling towers or any physical threat; it is not financial setback, or suffering, or losing our job, or losing our possessions. The most serious problem we face is our sin.

Now we don’t think like this. We minimize the maximum and maximize the minimum. We get all worked up about lesser things, and often completely ignore greater things. We are forever worked up about passing things like health and money, and give little heed to the things of eternity and to getting ready to go and meet God. Let our physical health be threatened even for a moment and we are instantly on our knees begging God for deliverance. But let our sins pile up and sinful drives be eating at our very soul and we take little notice and have little care to be delivered from things that are far more serious than mere cancer.

The Lord says, If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body cast into hell (Matt 5:30). Pay attention, the Lord is saying that it is more serious to sin than to lose my right hand.

Again, we don’t think like this. If I were to lose my right hand I would lament this day for the rest of my life. The very thought of losing my hand gives me stabbing grief. But then why don’t we think of our sin this way? See how obtuse we are? See how distorted our priorities are?

One day the Lord looked at a paralyzed man and decided to cure his most serious problem. And thus he said to the quadriplegic, Your sins are forgiven. Could his sins have been more serious than his paralysis? Yes!

And thus the Lord warns us that we ought to be more serious about our sins lest we perish, not merely losing our earthly life, but more so, our eternal life. . The very fact that the solution to our problem required the death of the Son of God, indicates that we are evidently in worse shape than we think and that without our repentance and the magnificent mercy of God, something far worse than having a tower fall on us, or our enemies kill us might happen. Elsewhere the Lord says: I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (Lk 12:4-5). Now, to be sure, the Lord does not counsel here a cringing and avoidant fear, but a respectful fear that is willing to be serious about judgement day, and realize that its effect is eternal unlike the passing quality of any earthly encounter.

Having portrayed the problem and underscored its seriousness both here and in other places, the Lord them reminds us that he is willing to help us to get ready with his grace and mercy. And, hence, he sets forth a process in which we must cooperate, for the day of judgment will surely come. Lets look at the Process.

II. The Portrayal of the Process – And thus the Lord tells a parable that sets forth the process in which we are currently engaged, a process of patience and mercy but leading ultimately to the finality of judgment. Note the following steps:

1. ASSESSMENT – There was once a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard and when he came in search of fruit on it and found none said to the gardener, “For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this tree and have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?

Faith is a fruit bearing tree. It is to bear the fruits of love, of justice, of the keeping of the commandments. Now the Lord looks for these fruits and often, through our conscience and by his Word, and He assesses if such fruits are present.

Many claim to have faith, many claim to be fruitful in what the Lord seeks. But, as owner of the field, it is He who sets the terms. We are not a judge in our own case. It is the Lord’s on-going work to assess our progress and and fruitfulness and it is he who has the right to determine if the necessary fruits are present.

Yet many today in this proud age claim the right to assess their own status, and many make bold proclamations that God would not “dare” find in them anything substantial to be lacking. And in presumption many declare themselves to be safe, fruitful and righteous.

But this is not for us to say. In the parable it is the owner, the Lord, who makes the assessment. And note that in this parable he proposes that something significant is lacking.

And yet, some interlocutor, here called the gardener, but let us call her the Church, asks mercy and time. And as we shall see such mercy and time is granted along with necessary supplies (grace) to help accomplish what is sought, namely the fruit of faith. And this leads us to stage two in the process.

2. ASSISTANCE – The text goes on to describe the prayers and requests of the gardener, in this case Mother Church: Sir leave it for this year also. I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it. It may bear fruit in the future.

And thus we see that the Lord, the owner of the garden not only grants the request but will also be the one to supply the necessary helps to draw forth the fruits patiently awaited.

Indeed, the Lord sends us help and graces in so many ways:

  1. He speaks in our conscience, has written his law in our hearts
  2. He gave us the law
  3. He sent us prophets
  4. He punishes our wrong doings to bring us to repentance. Before I was afflicted I strayed. But now I have kept your word. (Ps 119:67) And again,  But God disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:10)
  5. Sent us his Son!
  6. Who established the Church
  7. And gave us the grace and the Sacraments
  8. And It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. [That we be] no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Eph 4: 11-17)

Yes, see how much God has done for us! He has graced us in every way and entrusted to the Church, in answer to here pleas, every necessary grace to bear fruit. And now he patiently awaits. Looking to return again to seek the fruits that are necessary for those who claim to have saving faith, fruits that are necessary to be able to endure the day of his comings, fruits which are necessary that we have the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14)! Indeed we cannot see or endure his presence without the fruit of holiness by his grace. For as Scripture says, Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Or Who may stand in his holy place?Only he who has clean hands and a pure heart (Ps 24:3-4). And only God can accomplish this. But he who made us without us will not save us without us, and thus we must, by his grace, renounce our sin and accept his grace.

3. ACCEPTANCE – The parable ends simply with this line:  If not you can cut it down.

The word “acceptance” is chosen carefully here, for judgement is not so much God’s decision, but rather, is his acceptance of our decision to bear fruit or to refuse to bear fruit, to accept or refuse his offer of the bearing the fruits of faith such as chastity, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, love of the poor, appreciation of the truth and so forth.

The day of judgement amounts to the day when God accepts our final choice. Our judgment is not so much a passing of sentence on us but is rather the recognition of the final and absolute choice we have made.

Mysteriously it would seem that there comes a day when change for us is no longer possible. What we are remains fixed forever. Even as we get older we note how it is harder to change. We are like concrete that sets, and becomes ever harder. We are like pottery which begins moist and malleable but when subjected to the fire has a shape that is forever fixed.

And thus the Lord teaches us to be serious about sin and about the day of judgement. For now there is mercy and every grace available to us, thank you Jesus! But there comes a day when our decision is finally called, and forever fixed.

The Gospel today teaches beautifully of God’s patience, but ultimately of our need for mercy, (we are all beggars before God), and warns us that our decision will finally be called. Yes, there is a Day of Judgement and it closes in on us all.

Talking about how we sang “Kum bah ya” etc., will not suffice. St. Paul also warns in today’s second reading against presumption and of us trying to serve as a judge in our own case:

Our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall. (1 Cor 10:1:ff)

For now there is mercy! But there comes a day of ratification, of judgement, when the question is called and the lasting answer is supplied, not so much by God as by us.

Be careful, your flesh says, “No worries!” But the Lord says “Repent!”

This song by Johnny Cash rooted in the image from today’s parable warns:

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time,
run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

Well, you may throw your rock
and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s down in the dark will be brought to the light.

Go tell that long tongue liar,
go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler,
the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut you down

Every Round Goes, Higher, Higher. A Meditation on the Gospel for the 2nd Sunday of Lent

022313The second Sunday of Lent always features the transfiguration. This is done in the first place because we are following the Lord on his final journey to Jerusalem and this journey up Mt Tabor was one of the stops Jesus himself made with Peter, James and John. It is commonly held that Jesus did this to prepare his apostles for the difficult days ahead. There’s a line from an old spiritual which says, Sometimes I up, sometimes I’m down, sometimes I’m almost on the ground…..but see what the end shall be. And this is what the Lord is doing here: he is showing us what the end shall be. There is a cross to get through, but there is glory on the other side.

There also seems a purpose in placing this account here in that it helps describe the pattern of the Christian life which is the paschal mystery. For we are always dying and rising with Christ in repeated cycles as we journey to an eternal Easter (cf 2 Cor4:10). This Gospel shows forth the pattern of the cross, in the climb, and rising, in the glory of the mountaintop. Then it is back down the mountain again, only to climb another mountain, (Golgotha) and through it find another glory (Easter Sunday). Here is the pattern of the Christian life: the paschal mystery. Let’s look a little closer at the Gospel in three stages.

I. The Purpose of Trials. The text says – Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.. Now we often pass over this fact, that they had to climb that mountain. And the climb was no easy task. Any one who has been to the sight of Tabor knows what high mountain it is. The climb was almost 2000 feet, high and steep. It may have taken the better part of a day and probably had its dangers. Once at the top it is like looking from an airplane window out on the Jezreel Valley (a.k.a. Megiddo or Armageddon).

So here is a symbol of the cross and of struggle. A climb was up the rough side of the mountain: exhausting, difficult, testing their strength.

I have it on the best of authority that as they climbed they were singing gospel songs: I’m comin’ up on the rough side of the mountain, and I’m doin’ my best to carry on! Another songs says, My soul looks back and wonders how I got over! Yet another says, We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, every round goes higher, higher.

Now, this climb reminds us of our life. For often we have had to climb, to endure and have our strength tested. Perhaps it was the climb of getting a college degree. Perhaps it was the climb of raising children, or building a career. What do you have that you really value that did not come at the price of a climb….of effort and struggle?

And most of us know that, though the climb is difficult, there is glory at the top is we but endure and push through. Life’s difficulties are often the prelude to success and greater strength.

Though we might wish that life had no struggles, it would seem that the Lord intends the climb for us. For, the cross alone leads to true glory. Where would we be without some of the crosses in our life? Let’s ponder some of the Purposes of problems:

  1. God uses problems to DIRECT us. Sometimes God must light a fire under you to get you moving. Problems often point us in a new directions and motivate us to change. Is God trying to get your attention? “Sometimes it takes a painful situation to make us change our ways,” Proverbs 20:30 says: Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inner most being. Another old gospel song speaks of the need of suffering to keep us focused on God: Now the way may not be too easy. But you never said it would be. Cause when our way gets a little too easy, you know we tend to stray from thee. Sad but true, God sometimes needs to use problems to direct our steps to him.
  2. God uses problems to INSPECT us. People are like tea bags.. if you want to know what’s inside them, just drop them into hot water! Has God ever tested your faith with a
    problem? What do problems reveal about you? Our problems have a way of helping to see what we’re really made of. I have discovered many strengths I never knew I had through trials and testings. There is a test in every testimony and trials have a way of purifying and strengthening our faith as well as inspecting our faith to see whether it is really genuine. 1 Peter 1:6 says, In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure.
  3. God uses problems to CORRECT us. Some lessons we learn only through pain and failure. It’s likely that as a child your parents told you not to touch a hot stove. But you probably learned by being burned. Sometimes we only learn the value of something health, money, a relationship by losing it. Scripture says in Psalm 119:71-72 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees and also in Psalm 119:67 it says Before I was afflicted, I strayed. But now I keep you word.
  4. God uses problems to PROTECT us. A problem can be a blessing in disguise if it prevents you from being harmed by something more serious. A man was fired for refusing to do something unethical that his boss had asked him to do. His unemployment was a problem-but it saved him from being convicted and sent to prison a year later when management’s actions were eventually discovered. Scripture says in Genesis 50:20 as Joseph speaks to his brothers You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
  5. God uses problems to PERFECT us. Problems, when responded to correctly, are character builders. God is far more interested in your character than your comfort. Romans 5:3 says We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. And 1 Peter 1:7 says You are being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return.

So here it is, the cross symbolized by the climb. But after the cross comes the glory. Let’s look at stage two:

II. The Productiveness of Trials. The text says, While he was praying his face changed in appearance  and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,  who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus  that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,  but becoming fully awake,  they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,  “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking,  a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,  and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said,  “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

All the climbing has paid off. Now comes the fruit of all that hard work! The Lord gives them a glimpse of glory! They get to see the glory that Jesus has always had with the Father. He is dazzlingly bright. A similar vision from the book of revelation gives us more detail:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, ….. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Rev 1:12-17)

Yes, all the climbing has paid off. Now comes the glory, the life, the reward or endurance and struggle. Are you enjoying any the fruits of your crosses now? If we think about it, our crosses, if they were carried in faith have made us more confident, stronger. Some of us have discovered gifts, abilities and endurance we never knew we had. Our crosses have brought us life!

  1. The other night I went over to the Church and played the pipe organ. It was most enjoyable and the fruit of years of hard work.
  2. And not only have my own crosses brought me life, but the crosses of others have also blessed me and brought me life. I live and work in buildings that others saved and scrimped and labored to build. I have a faith that martyrs died to hand on to me, that missionaries journeyed long distances to proclaim. See the trials do produce. Enjoy it!
  3. St. Paul says, that this momentary affliction is producing for us a weight of glory beyond all compare (2 Cor 4:14). He also says For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18).
  4. An old gospel song says, By and by, when the morning comes, and all the saints of God are gathered home, we’ll tell the story, of how we’ve overcome. And we’ll understand it better, by and by.

So then, here is the glory that comes after the climb. Here is the life that comes from the cross. Here is the paschal mystery: Always carrying about in our selves the dying of Christ so also that the life of Christ may be manifest in us (2 Cor 4:10).

III. The Pattern of Trials – The text says, After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen..

Notice that, although Peter wanted to stay, Jesus makes it clear that they must go down the mountain for now and walk a very dark valley, to another hill, Golgotha. For now, the pattern must repeat. The cross has led to glory, but more crosses are needed before final glory. An old spiritual says, We are climbing Jacob’s ladder….every round goes higher, higher, soldiers of the cross!

This is our life. Always carrying within our self the dying of Christ so also that [the rising of Christ], the life of Christ may be manifest in us (cf 2 Cor 4:10).

There are difficult days ahead for Jesus and the apostles. But the crosses lead to a final and lasting glory. This is our life too. The paschal mystery, the pattern and rhythm of our life.

This Homily was recorded and is available in mp3 here:

Here is an excerpt from the Song We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder. The Text says that every round goes higher, higher! Almost as if imagining a spiral staircase even as the rounds get pitched higher musically. For this is the pattern of our life that we die with Christ so as to live with him. And each time we come back around to the cross, or back around to glory, we are one round higher and one level closer to final glory.

The Gospel Train reaches Temptation Station: Stay on Board Children! A Meditation on the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent

021613There’s an old Gospel song tradition that speaks of the Christian life as a ride on the “Gospel Train.” But the Gospel Train not always and easy ride with perfect scenery. But you gotta get your ticket for the Gospel Train and stay aboard.

Mysteriously, the train sometimes passes through difficult terrain and life’s temptations. But just stay on board! Jesus too, on his way to glory faced trials, hatred, and even temptation (yet without sin).

Today the Gospel Train pulls into “Temptation Station” and we are asked to consider life’s temptations. The three temptations faced by Jesus are surely on wide display in our own times. What are these temptations and how do we resist them?

In the desert scene of this Gospel, the Lord Jesus faces down three fundamental areas of temptation, but all of them have one thing in common: they seek to substitute the cross for a couch.

In a way the devil has one argument: “Why the Cross?!” And his question is not a real one, but a rhetorical one. He wants you to blame God for the cross, and, in your anger, to reject God as some despot.

Well, pay attention Church, the cross comes from the fact that you and I, ratifying Adam and Eve’s choice, have rejected the tree of life, for the tree that brought death. We, along with satan (I refuse to capitalize his name) may wish to wince at, and scornfully blame God for the Cross, but in the end, the cross was our choice.

And if you think that you have never chosen the tree of death and that God is “unfair,” then prove to me that you have never sinned, and I’ll accept that you never chose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,  over the Tree of Life and that you deserve something better than the cross. I’ll accept that you never insisted on “knowing” evil as well as good.

Otherwise, you’ve made the same self-destructive, and absurd choice that the rest of us have, and it is not God that is cruel but we who are wicked who are to blame for the presence of the cross. And, thus  the cross comes not from God but from us.We ought to stop blaming God for evil, suffering and the Cross and look into the mirror. And the glory of this gospel is that the Lord Jesus enters into this twisted world of OUR making and endures its full absurdity for our sake. If there is evil in this world, it is our choice, not God’s.

OK, are we over “blame God” thing and ready to focus on our own issues? If that be the case then let us look to some areas of temptation that satan is able to exploit because WE indulge them.  Let us also see the answer that the Lord Jesus has for these temptations. For the Lord, though tempted, never yields.

1. Pleasures and Passions The devil encourages Jesus to turn stones into bread. After having fasted, the thought of bread is surely a strong temptation. In effect the devil tells Jesus to “scratch where it itches,” to indulge his desire, to simply give in to what his body craves.

We too have many desires and we too are told by the devil in many ways to scratch where it itches. Perhaps no generation before has faced temptation in this area so strongly as we. We live in a consumer culture that is well skilled at eliciting and satisfying our every desire. All day long advertisements reach into our mind to excite desire and to advise that we MUST fulfill our every desire and wish. If something is out of stock or unavailable in exactly the form we want we are indignant. “Why should I have to wait? Why can’t I have it in that color?” and so forth. The advertiser’s basic message is “You can have it all!” This is a lie of course but it is told so frequently that we feel entitled to just about everything.

Some of our biggest cultural problems are problems of over-indulgence. We are a culture that struggles with obesity, addiction, sexual misconduct, greed, and an over-stimulation that robs us of an attention span, and this causes boredom to be a significant issue for many who are too used to the frantic pace of a video game or action movie. We have done well in turning stones to bread.

To all this Jesus rebukes the devil by saying, “Man does not live on bread alone.” In other words there are things that are just more important and bread and circuses, than creature comforts and indulgence. Elsewhere Jesus says, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Lk 12:15). I have written on this in another post: The Most Important Things in Life Aren’t Things

2. Popularity and Power –  Taking Jesus up a high mountain the devil shows him all the nations and people of the earth and promises them to him if Jesus but bow down and worship the devil. This is a temptation to power but also to popularity for the devil promises him not only sovereignty but also glory.

Since most of us are not likely to attain to sovereignty, and since temptation is only strong in those matters that seem possible for us, I will focus on popularity. Here too we face a lot of this in life. One of the deeper wounds in our soul is the extreme need that most of us have to be liked, popular, well thought of, respected, and to fit in. We dread being laughed at, scorned or ridiculed. We cannot stand the thought of feeling minimized in any way.

For many people the desire for popularity is so strong that they’ll do almost anything to attain it. It starts in youth when peer pressure “causes” young people to do lots of stupid stuff. They will join gangs, get tattoos, piercings, wear silly clothes. Many a young lady desperate to have a boyfriend and thus feel loved and/or impress her friends, will sleep with boys or do other inappropriate things to gain that “love.” As we get older we might be willing to bear false witness, make compromises etc to advance our career, lie to impress others, spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t really need, to impress people we don’t really like. Likewise, we can tempted to be silent when we should speak out for what is right and so forth.

All of this is a way of bowing before the devil since we are, in effect, willing even to sin in order to fit in, advance, or be popular. Here Jesus says, You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.

The real solution to this terrible temptation to popularity is to fear the Lord. When we fear God we need fear no one else. If I can kneel before God, I can stand before any man. If God is the only one we need to please, then we don’t have to run around trying to please everyone else. Here too I have written on this matter elsewhere: What Does It Mean To Fear the Lord?

3. Presumption and Pride Finally (for now) the devil encourages Jesus to test God’s love for him by casting himself off the highest wall of the Temple Mount. Does not scripture say that God will rescue him? The devil quotes Psalm 91: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone. In our time the sin of presumption is epidemic.

Many people think that they can go one behaving sinfully, recklessly, and wantonly and that they will never face punishment. “God is love!” they boldly say, “He would never send anyone to hell or punish!” In saying this they reject literally thousands of verses of Scripture that say otherwise. But they have refashioned God, and worship this idol. “God does not care if I go to Church,” they boldly declare, “He does not care if I live with my girlfriend.” The list continues to grow.

The attitude is that no matter what I do God will save me. It is boldly presumptive to speak and think like this. It is true that Hell and punishments are difficult teachings to fully comprehend and square with God’s patience and mercy. Nevertheless God teaches it and we need to stop pretending that it really isn’t for real. This is presumption.

I have written elsewhere on the topic of Hell and why it makes sense in the context of a God who loves and respects us: Hell Has to Be.

A mitigated form of presumption is procrastination wherein we put off our return to the Lord day after day. Of this it is said,

There were three demons summoned by satan as to their plan to entrap as many human beings as possible. The first demon announced that he would tell them there is no God. But Satan wasn’t too impressed. “You’ll get a few, but not many, and even those atheists know deep down inside that someone greater than them made them and all things.” The Second demon said he would tell them there was no devil. But satan said, “That won’t work, most of them have already met me and know my power. Finally the third demon said, “I will not tell them there is no God or no devil, I will simply tell them there is no hurry!” And satan smiled an ugly grin and said, “You’re the man!

And thus presumption, pride and their ugly cousin presumption are widespread today.

Jesus rebukes satan by quoting Deuteronomy: You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test. We ought to be very careful about presumption for it is widespread today.

This does not mean we have to retreat into fear and scrupulosity. God loves us and is rich in mercy, but we cannot willfully go on calling “no big deal” what God calls sin and takes seriously. Hence we should be sober about sin and call on the Lord’s mercy rather than doubt we really need it and just presume God doesn’t mind etc.

Our train is leaving the station soon. It is to be hoped that you and I have benefited from this brief stop and have stored up provisions for the journey ahead such as: insight, resolve, appreciation, understanding, determination and hope.

The journey ahead is scenic but also difficult and temptations are a reality. But as the Old Gospel Song says: The Gospel train’s a’comin’, I hear it just at hand. I hear the car wheel rumblin’ And rollin’ thro’ the land. Then Get on board, Children, Get on board, there’s room for many a more!

Never heard the song? Here it is:

But at Your Command I will Lower the Nets: A Meditation on the Gospel for the 5th Sunday of the Year

020913In today’s Gospel, we see the Call of Simon Peter. It is a call that takes place in several stages. And while it is presented in a compact time frame for Simon, for most of us it takes place over a longer period as the Lord works to deepen our faith and heighten our call. The upshot of today’s Gospel is that Peter’s faith is strengthened by his Obedience to the Lord’s command.

Lets see how the Lord grows Peter’s faith.

I. The Help that isn’t Hard – The text says, While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

It may astonish us, but God seeks our help. What did Peter have? He had a boat at the ready and, as we shall see, a tender heart. What do you have? That will vary. But all of us have talents, gifts, access, availability, special aspects to our personality and so forth that God can use and wants to use. And the way the Lord has set things up, he “needs” our help. God who made us without our help, will not save us without our help. Call, this what you will, cooperative grace, collaborative grace, or my personal favorite, responsible grace, but God seeks to engage us in our own salvation and the salvation of others. God wants our help.

But the main point here in terms of Peter’s progression in the faith is that this initial request of Peter is just a small thing. It’s not a hard thing for Peter to do. It is a small way to learn the obedience of faith.

And here is where the Lord begins, with Peter and with us. He trains us in greater obedience by means of smaller things. Don’t overlook the small, daily obedience to the Lord, for by them the Lord trains and equips us for great things. If the Lord can trust us in small matters, he can and will trust us with greater things.

But soon enough as we shall see the Lord with deepen Peter’s faith and heighten his call.

II. The Hesitation that must be Healed – The text says,  After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.

Peter is willing to do something routine for the Lord. After all, what does it take to let the Lord use your boat for a little while? But now the Lord invites Peter to go a little deeper, to “put out into deep water.” And for a moment Peter hesitates. He is tired and, frankly, discouraged. So much work, and so little to show for it.  There was probably a hint of sarcasm in his voice too, and doubt in his heart, since he later repents and calls himself a sinful man. Yes, here is a hesitation that must be healed if Peter is ever to see his blessings, and reach his destiny.

And so too for some of us. Perhaps we heard  the Lord call us to some task and we hesitated because we were tired or discouraged. Its one thing to come to Church a say a few prayers. But please Lord nothing more.

Perhaps we were fearful. Deep waters bring greater threats. The water gets deeper and the stakes get higher. And somehow we just have to step out in faith, get out of our comfort zone, and head for deeper waters. Yes, we, like Peter can hesitate and think of all sorts of reasons why what the Lord asks is not a good a idea.

How is the hesitation healed for Peter? In a very interesting and counter-cultural way, and in a way that is really the central point of this Gospel, he is healed by the obedience of faith.

Yes, Peter’s healing is caught up in his acknowledgement that the Lord commands it. He says, But, at your command I will lower the nets. It is an intriguing fact that Peter finds strength and consolation in the Lord’s command. And yet there can be something paradoxically freeing about being under authority.

We live in a culture that tends to regard authority merely with cynicism and even rewards some degree of rebellion. Further our flesh tends to bristle at being under authority. Yet, again it should be stated that there is something paradoxically freeing about being under authority.

As a Christian I want to say that I derive a lot of serenity and courage when it is clear to me that the Lord commands something of me. While the world may balk and the demands of the moral life and find much of it too difficult or demanding, I find it is often enough for me to know that the Lord both teaches and commands it. This gives both serenity and confidence. Even if some aspect of my flesh may hesitate, know that my Lord and lawful and his lawful representatives, my Bishop and the Magisterium, command something, frees me and gives me the courage to know that I am doing God’s will. Whatever natural hesitancy I might encounter is often quickly dispatched by being commanded by the Lord.

Thus a person on a given Sunday morning may hesitate to go to Mass, preferring to sleep in or finding the matter somehow difficult. And yet knowing it is commanded in the Third Commandment helps his to dismiss his hesitancy. And the same is true for the rest of the moral Law and also certain vocational matters and actions required of the Christian not under a general Command but under a specific call that is experienced from the Lord.

And in this way of obedience the Lord draws Peter to deeper waters, and so too us if we let him. The hesitation that Peter had, must be healed if he is to see his faith deepen and his call heighten.

III. The Harvest that is Hauled – The text says,  When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking.

In this matter the Lord grants Peter a great grace to enjoy the fruits of obedience in a very immediate way. In other cases the harvest is immediate but this much is always true: it is promised, it will come, whether today of years from now, but it will come!

The Lord says elsewhere, using a more landed image, The harvest is plentiful… (Mat 9:37). And what the Lord is doing here is given Peter (and us) and audio visual aid. For obviously the harvest which the Lord heralded was not about fish, it is about Human beings. Indeed the harvest is plentiful! Consider all the people the Lord has touched after these humble beginnings in a backwater of Israel. Not only are there the 1.2 Billion Catholics on the planet today, there are countless numbers who have lived before and a number, know only to God of those who will come after us. Yes, a bountiful harvest.

It is true, some days and times are better for fishing or harvesting than others, as Peter knows, and we do too. St. Paul speaks of the Gospel as being “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). But even in those times that the Lord designates for pruning, or for the field to lie fallow for a time, He is only preparing for future growth. For he says, “the harvest in plenty” and his Word prevails.

Hence, even if now in the West the seasons have turned against us, we must remember that even in winter the farmer must stay busy preparing the soil, removing the rocks, laying fertilizers and so forth.

Yes, the Lord is heralding a harvest and we must work, no matter the season. And even if we do not seek the full harvest, the Lord does as do others. For Jesus says elsewhere: Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (John 4:37)

Bottom line, just do your work, obey what the Lord commands and know that a harvest is heralded and it will be hauled in, in nets that are strained and boats that are heavily weighted. The harvest will come and it will come with abundance. Just keep working and obeying what he commands.

IV. The Humility that Heightens. The text says,  When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.

In falling to his knees, Peter is about to raised higher by the Lord. Peter realizes that his hesitation and doubt had been sinful, and that, had he persisted and not obeyed the Lord, he would have blocked his blessings.

Notice too, what is described here of Peter is not a cringing and a devastated humility, but rather, a healthy humility.

Healthy humility raises us, it does not cast us down. Bowing in healthy humility heightens our status, it does not crush us. And thus the Lord, having led Peter to a healthy obedience and humility says to Peter, in effect, “Come up higher,” your concern now will not be over fish, but rather the care of human souls who are precious to me. You will be my co-worker in a far more important enterprise. Yes, healthy humility raises us.

And thus Peter’s humility is a productive one. It is the “Godly sorrow” of Which St. Paul writes:

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. (2 Cor 7:8-11)

Peter’s humility is a productive one because it is Godly. It is a humility and sorrow that equips him for greater duties no longer related fish, but now human souls.

How different this is from mere shame (which Paul calls worldly sorrow). For shame usually locks us into an unhealthy self-loathing that is paralyzing. But Godly sorrow increases our zeal to do God’s will and thereby equips, empowers and enables Peter and us when God shall call.

And the Lord does call, and Peter, through obedience and humility is now ready to leave everything and follow Jesus. And the Lord has led him here in stages.  It began with a request for help that wasn’t hard, a small obedience. But then the called him deeper, and to a more difficult obedience, and Peter needed to have his hesitation healed. Experiencing this healing he hauled in a harvest that illustrated what his lack of faith and obedience might have cost him. And humbled him, but also heightened him. Having his faith deepened in Jesus he is now ready to follow the Lord. It is always better to walk in humility and obedience rather than pride!

I all of this, don’t miss the key, the golden chord: At your command, I will lower the nets. Faith is rooted in obedience and humility and this is the key to our growth as disciples.

St. Peter is still a rookie, but his first season holds great promise. We will see that he will not go without his injuries, but in the end he too will be the rock (in Christ) who is ready to roll.

A little Appalachian Gospel on the Call of Simon Peter:

A”Rule of Life”for Prophets: A Homily for the 4th Sunday of the Year

020213Prophets are those who speak for God. They Love God, and they love his people, and speak the very true (and often painful) truth of God to his people. They do so not to win an argument, but because of their love and conviction that only the undiluted truth of God can save us in the end.

People-pleasing and other forms of human respect cannot supplant the reverence for God and His truth. Thus Prophets are willing to endure pain and suffering to proclaim God’s truth to an often unappreciative segment of God’s people. But out of love for God and his people, they press on to proclaim his truth, and they do so willingly, knowing that even death awaits their personal, persistent and prophetic proclamation.

Today’s readings set for us a kind of “rule for life for prophets.” And we, who are baptized into the order of prophet, do well to hear the teachings of these readings, Let us examine them in three stages.

I. The Call that is Declared – The text says: In the first reading God says to Jeremiah (and to us): The word of the LORD came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. But do you gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you.

We ought to note four things about our call as prophets.

1. The Prevenient nature of our Call- The word “prevenient” refers to something which comes before; which precedes, something that is expectant or anticipatory. And thus God has not chosen us in a whimsical way, as if to say, “you’ll do.” He has considered our call before He made us and equipped, empowered and enabled us for our work.

God tells Jeremiah and us, that he has known, loved and cherished us long before He ever made us. And thus he made us in a way that prepared and equipped us of the very work of being a prophet.

How? you say. That is as variable as the person you are. There is no one who can proclaim God or announce the kingdom like you can. Perhaps too he has especially equipped you to evangelize certain individuals no one else can reach. Just know this, God has thought a long time about you and prepared for you in very specific and thoughtful ways. What ever you have needed has “come before” is “prevenient.”

2. The Purview of our Call –The text tells Jeremiah (and us) that we are appointed unto the nations. Now, Jeremiah did not himself, in his own life, journey beyond Israel. But since his life, the Word of the Lord uttered through him, has reached every nation.

Never doubt the influence you can exert by the grace of God. Even in and through reaching one person you can change the destiny of many. Stay in your lane and do your work, but remember God can accomplish through you more than you ask or imagine. Your influence by his grace can reach the nations.

3. The Preparation of our Call –The Lord tells Jeremiah (and us) to “gird our loins.” This is an ancient way of saying “roll up your sleeves.” In other words, prepare to work by assembling what you need and being ready to exert effort.

Surely for us this means daily prayer, weekly Eucharist and frequent confession. It means prayerfully reading God’s reading and the teaching of the Church and it means keeping fellowship with the Church, and with fellow believers. All of this equips, empowers and enables us for the work of being a prophet which God has called us to do.

Beyond this there may be other specific gifts God calls us to develop, be it music, learning a second language, growing in the gift of healing, preaching, or administration. What it may be, God will show you and help you to grow the gifts and talents you have received.

In all this you “roll up your sleeves” for the work God has given and is preparing you for so that you will be an evermore effective prophet.

4. The Prescription of our Call –The text says, “tell them all that I command you.” In other words, leave nothing out, proclaim the whole counsel of God. Don’t just proclaim what appeals to you or jives with you politics and worldview, don’t just say what is popular or in sync with currently worldly thinking. Tell them the whole message, in season or out of season.

II. The Courage that is Demanded – The text says Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them; for it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land: against Judah’s kings and princes, against its priests and people.

And here note three qualities of a prophet:

Strength – A prophet needs to be strong, for people are stubborn and unwilling to easily change. Indeed, we are collectively a stiff-necked people, we have a neck of iron and forehead of brass. We are thick-headed, willful and obdurate. A prophet has to be willing to endure a lot to move the ball even a few inches. If you don’t think we’re a hard case, look at the cross and see what it took to save us (you). Prophets need strength and persistence.

Support- The prophet (Jeremiah and us) is called “a pillar of iron.”  That is, we are to lend support to a crumbling nation and culture. Whether our culture likes to admit it or not, it is crumbling and collapsing, If it stands any chance at all, it is only that we are willing to be a pillar of iron calling this culture back to modesty, decency, chastity, self control, maturity, obedience to God and generosity to the poor. Otherwise, everything is destined for ruin.

Sadly the Church has often had to pick up the shattered pieces of fallen cultures, nations and eras that refused to repent. But this is what prophets must do, they must be pillars of iron when cultures go weak and soft, or crumble under the weight of pride, sin and un-repentance.

And failing that,  we must become, by God’s grace the new foundation and pillar of what rises from the ashes. All of this takes great courage.

Sanctifier – Jeremiah is told that the priests, kings and princes have all been co-opted, and corrupted, and he must speak the truth to them all and summon them to repentance.

Here is the hardest work of the prophet, to call those who most benefit from the status quo, to change and repentance. This is not only hard because they are “on top” of the current system, but it is also hard because to one degree or another, they are owed respect and obedience as lawful superiors.

Navigating the balance between respect for authority and the summons of them to repentance is not easy and only God can really pull it off. Nevertheless speaking the truth to power is the unenviable lot of the prophet.

Well, fellow prophets this means you and me. I would only urge prayer here. Bishop-bashing and the usual fare of ridiculing political leaders is not the solution. Neither is quiet acquiescence when we are clear that those in authority need to hear a call from the Lord. Lots of prayer and a general tone of respect will surely lead the way. Clarity with charity, and light with love.

III. The Conclusion that is Determined – The text says,  They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

In the end, the truth will out. The Light wins, He always wins. Every night gives way to day and the light scatters darkness. Darkness has its hour but truth has eternity. Good Friday only points to Easter Sunday, and death is cast off like a garment. In the end, every true prophet is on the winning team. While he may endure jail, laughter, ridicule. persecution, setbacks and trials, what every true prophet announces will come to pass. History bears this out and it will be definitively manifest at the Last Day. The darkness cannot prevail, it always gives place to the light.

The Conclusion for the prophet, for the Church, for the Gospel, for the Lord is total victory. It cannot be any other way, God has spoken it and He will do it.

Even if in a small way the Lord Jesus shows this in today’s Gospel. The text says,

They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Here is a preview of Easter, just when Satan is running his victory lap, the Lord casts off death and stands as light in the shadow of the Cross. Satan loses, Jesus wins. That is the conclusion.

So get on the winning team. Pay little heed to the current struggle, it cannot last or win. Jesus has already won.

On The Wonder of The Word of God – A Homily for the Third Sunday of the Year

012613The Gospel for this Sunday is continued next week and so perhaps we can await an analysis of it until then. The First reading from Nehemiah 8 is a wonderful meditation on the glory and wonder of the Word of God and it deserves our attention.

The background of the text is that Israel, in 587 BC had been conquered by the Babylonians and the survivors of that war were led into exile in Babylon. After 80 years the Persians conquered the Babylonians and Cyrus, King of Persia, permitted the Jews to return to the Promised Land. Sadly, only a small number chose to return and rebuild the ruined land and city. Among them was Nehemiah, a Royal official and Jew who led the small band back and oversaw the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

He. along with Ezra, the priest, also led a spiritual renewal which was spurred on not only by the purification of exile, but also by the rediscovery of certain “lost” or forgotten sacred Books. On one occasion the people gathered to hear the proclamation of one of the lost books and that is where we pick up the text today.

I. HUNGER for the Word of God – The text says, And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel.

Note then that the people are hungry for the Word of God. They have gathered and now make the unified request (as one man) that the Book of the Law be brought and proclaimed to them.

The likely “book” referred to here is the Book of Deuteronomy. It would seem that the book had either been “lost” or at least severely neglected in the preaching of the time prior to the Babylonian exile of Israel. In Deuteronomy was contained not only a development of the Law but also a list of blessings for following it, and also of grave warnings for not following it. After the painful experience of exile the people gathered (as we shall see) are aware that, had they heard and heeded Deuteronomy, they could have avoided the terrible events of the Babylonian conquest and captivity of Israel.

So now, chastised and sober they are hungry for this Word from God. As the Book of Psalms says, Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word (Psalm 119:67).

Are you hungry for the Word of God? More than for money? More than for bodily food? Scripture says,

  1. Psalm 19:9 the ordinances of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
  2. Deut 8:3 Man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.
  3. Job 23:12 – I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.
  4. Ps 119:162 I rejoice at thy word like one who finds great spoil.

Are we hungry for the Word like this? Well, we won’t miss a meal for our bodies, but we’ll go days without the Word. Our bodies gain weight and obesity is pandemic in our culture. But our souls too easily languish and endure famine from the Word of God and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

E.Are you hungry for his Word? An old song says, More about Jesus in his word, holding communion with my Lord, hearing his voice in every line, making each faithful saying mine. More more about Jesus, more of his saving fulness see more of his love who died for me.

II. HEARING of the Word of God – The text says, And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden pulpit which they had made for the purpose

Notice two things here:

ASSEMBLY – There is a communal dimension to the celebration of God’s word here. It’s not just a private celebration or reading. And while their is today in a more literate culture the possibility to read the Scriptures alone, we cannot neglect to gather with the Church and be taught the Word of God by others, especially the clergy who are trained and anointed unto this task. Scripture says,  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:24). Too many think that all they need is the Bible alone. But notice the proclamation of the Word is communal here. We’ll develop more of this is a future verse.

AMOUNT of time – The text says that the proclamation and explanation of this Word took place from “morning to mid-day!” This is no “say it in seven minutes sermon.” This is an extended time spent studying, praying and hearing the word of God. Many today consider a Mass that runs longer than 45 minutes to be counter-productive. Funny how we get thrilled when a three hour football game goes into overtime, but we complain when a sermon is longer than the regular time. We find so much time for other things, and our attention span is for them is long, and so little time for the Word of God and such impatience that the reflection be over sooner rather than later. Yes, we find time for everything else. Blame the preacher, and we may deserve it. But there’s usually more to the picture than just the preacher. Note what comes next.

III. HONOR for the Word of God – The text says, And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; and when he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God; and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

One will note here a remarkable honor given the word through active listening. While it is true that many today, especially in the more traditional Catholic fashion see silent and passive listening as the proper, pious and respectful demeanor for the readings and sermon, this is not the cultural setting described here. Neither is this quiet demeanor the ubiquitous norm in the Church today. It is not a question of which is right or wrong, but of whether the Word of God is being honored.

Thus note that the listeners here that morning 2,500 years ago: Stood, said “Amen, Amen!” Lifted up their hands, and even prostrated themselves on the ground while the word was read. They are engaged in active listening, giving the Word undivided attention and interacting with its sounds as it resonates in their being. This is a listening that is attentive, reflective and responsive, a hearing with thoughtful attention.

Again it will be granted there are different cultural expression of attentiveness,  but you can tell a lot by looking at peoples faces. But even in cultures that exhibit a prayer silence it will be noted that these same people get excited at the football game and even jump to their feet. So excitement and exuberant joy are not unknown even in cultures where religious reserve in the norm. Thus one would hope to rule out, even among the more reserved, that such reservation is a mere boredom. We want to be sure that we are simply dealing with sour-faced saints, bored believers, distracted disciples, or merely cold Christians. Thus, while reverence is expressed by many with prayerful and attentive silence, we want to be sure it is not simply the face of the “frozen chosen.”

And for those who are more demonstrative, we also want to be sure it is not a mere formulaic recitations of “amens” etc. or a sort of ego-centric, theatrical acting. Neither should one simply seek to exalt the preacher or the pew just in order to get everyone pumped up. The “amen-corner,” where it exists should be sincere.

The key point is to honor the word of God either by reverent silence or exuberant response. But in no way should the Word of God leave one bored and unmoved.

IV. HELP unto the Word of God –  The text says, The Levites also, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

So, the Word is not alone. It is explained and interpreted. We need the Church to properly understand the Word of God, to have it authentically interpreted. And while devotional reading is to be encouraged, the Word of God is not meant to be read apart from the Church. As the Protestant experiment has shown, an attempt to have the Scriptures without the Church and Magisterium from whence the Holy Spirit uttered them, is to usher in a disastrous and never-ending division. And this truth is expressed well in the story about the Ethiopian official:  So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:30)

And thus the authoritative preachers of God’s word, the Bishops priests and deacons, have the task to read, analyze, organize, illustrate and apply the Word of God in the liturgical setting.

Beyond the need for authoritative teachers, there is also the pastoral assistance provided by others in the task of proclaiming the Word of God. In my own community there are excellent lectors who often read the word with such power and inflection that I hear it as I have never heard it before. Further I have a wonderful choir that often sings songs and passages rooted in the Scripture and I come to know it as never before. It’s really pressed to my heart. The congregation too, by its vivid response to the proclaimed word and the preached Words also brings forth insight and makes the Word of God an experienced reality.

V. HEARTFELT reaction to the Word of God – The text says, And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.”

Note how moved they are at what is proclaimed, they weep. And their weeping is born on the fact that they realize what their past stubbornness has gotten them and how it brought disaster, decline and exile. Had they but heard and heeded God’s Law this terrible period of Israel’s history could have been avoided.

True listening to the word of God and the desired outcome of preaching it is to bring for a response. The word of God is not only inform, its purpose is to transform. It might make you mad, sad or glad, but if you are listening to the authentic Word of God, you cannot remained unmoved. Scripture says,

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do (Heb 4:12).

VI. Heeding of the Word of God – The text that extends beyond what the lectionary appoints to today, goes on to say: On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the law. And they found it written in the law that the LORD had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should publish and proclaim in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and dwelt in the booths; for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the book of the law of God. They kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the ordinance.

Thus, among the things they discovered is that Israel had not been celebrating an important and appointed feast day, the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) which, while a harvest festival, was also a celebration that acknowledged the gift of the Law on Mt. Sinai. That’s a pretty symbolic thing that they had stopped celebrating that particular feast. And thus the leaders, having studied the Word of God reestablish it and command the people to observe it carefully. In this is illustrated a heeding of the Word of God.

So, notice all the respect we’ve seen for the word of God: they hungered for it, heard it, honored it, helped in it proclamation, and had a heartfelt reaction. But here’s where the real honor is given, for now they HEED it. There’s a lot of “lip service” to the word of God, a lot of praise, some even shout “Amen” in Church. But the real acid test is if we heed the Word. And old spiritual says,  Some go to Church for to sing and shout. Before six months they’s all turned out. Another says,  Some seek God don’t seek him right, they fool all day and pray at night.

We are warned of the danger of failing to heed:

  1. Mat 7:26 And every one that hears these sayings of mine, and does them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
  2. Luke 12:47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.
  3. John 5:25 An hour is coming, has indeed come, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who have heeded it shall live

There is wonder in the Word of God, But only if we heed it.

Biblical Basics About Mother Mary – A Homily for the Second Sunday of the Year

011913In the Gospel today of the Wedding Feast at Cana we have a theological portrait both of Mother Mary and also of Prayer. Lets look at the Gospel along Five lines:

I. The Place that Mary has – The text says, There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.

It is a fascinating thing about these opening verses that Mary almost seems to dominate the scene and the presence of Jesus is mentioned secondly. St. Thomas Aquinas, noting this says that at Cana Mary is acting as the “go-between” in arranging a mystical marriage (Commentary on John, 98; and 2,1, n.336, 338, and 343, 151-152). Hence in a way she almost dominates the scene, and, once the Marriage is arranged, steps back, her final words to us being, “Do whatever he tells you.”

How many of us have experienced Mary’s role in helping us find her Son and our place at the wedding feast of the Lamb. I know in my own life it was Mary who drew me back to her Son when I had strayed.

II. The Prayer that Mary Makes – The text says, When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.

Notice now another central role that Mary has: she is interceding here, she is praying for others to her Son. Notice three qualities to her prayer:

Her discernment – She notices the problem, probably even before the Groom and Bride. Indeed Mothers often notice the needs of their children before they do. But why didn’t Jesus notice? Perhaps he did, and surely as God he knew. But he waits for us to ask. Yes, God waits and expects us to ask. In part this respect, for not all of us are ready to receive all his gifts. In part also, this expectation that we ask is also rooted in God’s teaching us that we must learn to depend on him and learn habitually to bring him our many needs. The Book of James says, You have not because You ask not (James 4:2).

Her diligence – Simply put, she actually prays. Rather than fret and be anxious she goes straightway to her Son out of love for the couple (us) and trust in her Son. She sees the need and gets right to the work of praying, of beseeching her Son.

Her deference – Note that she does not tell Jesus what to do per se, says simply notes the need: “They have no wine.” She is not directive, as if to say, “Here is my agenda and solution for this problem, follow my plans exactly, just sing here at the bottom of my plan for action.” Rather she simply observes the problem and places it before her Son in confidence. He knows what to do and will decide the best way to handle things.

Thus Mary models prayer for us. What wine are you lacking now? What wine do your children and grandchildren lack? Do you notice your needs and the needs of others and consistently pray? Or does it take things getting critical for you to notice or pray? And when you pray do you go to the Lord with trust or an agenda?

So the Scriptures teach that Mary is the quintessential woman of prayer, a model of prayer. She not only intercedes for us, she teaches us how to pray.

III.The Portrait of Mother Mary – The text says, Woman, how does this concern of yours affect me? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.

Notice three things about this brief dialogue

The Title of Mary Jesus calls her “Woman.” In Jewish culture a man could well respectfully call a woman “Woman,” but it was unheard of for a son to call his mother “Woman.”

Hence this text stands out as unusual and signals us that Jesus is speaking at a deeper level here. In fact, in the Johannine texts Jesus always calls his Mother, “Woman” and  this in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15  which says I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, while you strike at his heel.” And thus Jesus is saying that Mary is this woman who is prophesied.

So far from being disrespectful to Mary, Jesus is actually exulting her: You are the woman who was prophesied. You are she from whose “seed” comes forth the Son destined to destroy the power of Satan.

In this sense, Mary is also the new Eve. For Jesus also calls her “Woman” at the foot of the Cross wherein He is  the New Adam, Mary is the New Eve, and the tree this time is the Cross. And thus, just as we got into trouble by a man, a woman and tree, so now we get out of trouble by the same path. Adam’s “no” and sin is reversed by Jesus who saves us by his, “Yes.” Eve’s “No” is reversed by Mary’s yes.

The Tenacity of Mary Jesus says to his mother, literally in the Greek, “What to me and to thee, Woman?” (τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι – ti emoi kai soi, gunai) Usually, in the Scriptures, when the phrase comes up (e.g. Gen 23:15; 1 Kings 19:20) it indicates some kind of tension between the interlocutors. And thus, on the surface, it would seem that Jesus is expressing resistance over his mother striving to involve him in this matter. And yet, what makes this interpretation odd, is that Mary doesn’t seem to interpret it as resistance.

Perhaps there was something in the tone of voice that Jesus used, or perhaps there was a look between them that resolves the tension, and evokes the sympathy of Jesus to the cause. Whatever the case, Mary stays in the conversation with Jesus, and overcomes whatever tension or resistance existed at first. In this, we surely see her tenacity.

And this tenacity comports well with the kind of similar tenacity we observe of her another places. For though startled by the presence of the angel Gabriel, she does engage Gabriel in a respectful, but pointed conversation that seeks greater detail. She also hastens to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and in the dialogue that follows, she proclaims a Magnificat that is anything but a shy and reclining prayer. She joyfully acknowledges the Lord’s power in her life, and all but proclaims a revolutionary new world order.

To be tenacious means to hold fast in spite of obstacles or discouragements. However we are to interpret Jesus’ resistance to Mary’s initial concern, it is clear that Mother Mary does not give up, and that she confidently expects the Lord to answer her favorably. This is clear from her confident departure from the conversation and turning to the Stewards with the instruction, “Do whatever he tells you.”

The Trust of Mary – She simply departs, telling the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you.” She does not hover. She does not come back and check on the progress of things. She does not seek to control or manipulate the outcome. She simply leaves the scene and leaves it all to Jesus.

IV. The power of Mary’s prayer – Whatever his initial concerns regarding mother Mary’s request, Jesus now goes to work: Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it.  And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from — although the servers who had drawn the water knew —, the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.

If we do the math, we may confidently presume that Jesus produced almost 150 gallons of the best wine. Mary’s prayer, and tenacity have produced abundant results.

Sometimes the Lord says wait, only to grant further abundance. Scripture says, But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).

The Catholic tradition of turning to Mary and regarding her as a special intercessor with particular power, is rooted in the passage. But she is not merely an intercessor for us, she is also a model for us.  Namely, that we should persevere in prayer and go to the Lord was confident expectation of its abundant response.  The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16).

V. The product of Mary’s prayer – The text says, Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory and his disciples began to believe in him.

And thus, at the conclusion of this Gospel is the significant result that many began to believe in the Lord this day on account of this miracle. And here is Mary’s essential role with reference to Jesus, that she should lead many souls to a deeper union with her Son. And having done so, she leaves us with this instruction, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Mary’s role is to hold up Christ for us to see, and she did a Bethlehem for the shepherds, and later the Wise Men; to hold him up as she did for Simeon and Anna and the Temple; to point to his glory and she does here at Cana; and ultimately to hold his body in her arms at the foot of the cross after He is taken down.

Note too, that as a mother, Mary has a special role in the beginnings of our faith, in the infancy and childhood of our faith. The phrase in the text says many “began to believe.” This is something called an “inceptive aorist,” which is often used to stress the beginning of an action or the entrance into a state. Thus Mary has a special role in helping to initiate our faith, in helping, by God’s grace to birth Christ in us. She is, as St. Thomas says, the go-between, the great match-maker in the mystical marriage of Christ and the soul. And having done that her final words are, “Do whatever he tells you.” And while she may draw back a bit, she continues to pray for us.

Here then are some Biblical basics about Mother Mary, in this Gospel of the wedding feast of Cana.

Somehow I am mindful of an old Gospel song which says, My Mother Prayed for me had me on her mind. Took the time and prayed for me. I’m so glad she prayed. I’m So glad she prayed for me.