My Soul Looks Back and Wonders How I Got Over – A Homily for the 12th Sunday of the Year

Lightening Storm
The gospel today is something of a storm journal, a kind of picture of the Christian life as we journey through a stormy world against winds contrary to the gospel. There are distinctive stages, beginning with the call of Jesus to cross to the other shore. But as we cross there are surely storms and difficulties that assail us. No matter, the charge to have and keep making the crossing remains the same. Let’s look in more detail at the stages of this gospel and see how the disciples get over to the other shore with Jesus.
I. It begins with the CALL of Jesus: Let us go across to the other side. This is not merely a call to cross an ancient lake 2,000 years ago. This summons echoes down to us individually today, as the call to journey to the other shore, to Heaven.
Such crossings are not uncommon in the Scriptures. The Jewish nation crossed the Red Sea, which God parted for them. They set out as pursued slaves, crossed over, and reached the other shore to enjoy the glorious freedom of the Children of God.  And then, too, they crossed the River Jordan to enter the promised land, which is a symbol of entering Heaven. Having made that crossing, they received their inheritance.
A lot of the old spirituals contain references to crossing to the other side as symbolic of the journey to Heaven:

Michael, row the boat a-shore Hallelujah!
Then you’ll hear the trumpet blow Hallelujah!

Jordan’s river is deep and wide,
Meet my mother on the other side.

Jordan’s river is chilly and cold.
Chills the body, but not the soul.

Allow this call of Jesus, Let us go across to the other side, to be your summons to follow Him to Heaven. The disciples boarded a wooden boat to get to the other side. We cross to Heaven by the wood of the cross.

Listen to Jesus’ call and then set out! Heaven lies ahead, just over on the other shore!

II. Then comes the COMMENCEMENT: And leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he wasIt is one thing to be called by Jesus to cross to the other shore. It is another thing to respond and set out with Him. And thus the second stage of this gospel depicts the required response: that one set out, or commence the journey.
Note three things that are said here about the commencement of the journey: they renounce, they receive and they respect.
A.  They Renounce – The text says they “leave the crowd.” We are called to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil. In our Baptism we renounced the devil and by extension the world, of which he is prince. Scripture says, You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:3-4). Jesus says, No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (Mat 6:24). And yet again, I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:19).
Therefore the text says that they “leave the crowd.” They forsake the wide, popular road that leads to destruction and go out on the narrow way of the cross that leads to the other shore. You cannot have both Jesus and the world; you must choose. You cannot have the crowd and its values. Jesus warns, Woe to you when all speak well of you (Lk 6:26). We must be ready to leave the crowd, forsake popular ideas, and embrace the “foolishness” of the cross.
B. They Receive – The text says that they “took Jesus with them in the boat.” That is, they receive Jesus into the “boat” that is their life. They agree to journey with Him, not the world. They let Him pilot their ship. In the baptismal liturgy not only do we renounce Satan and the pomps of the world, we also accept Christ and profess our belief in God—Father, Son, and Spirit—and in the Church, which is Christ’s Body. Now Jesus enters the “boat” of our life and leads us in the crossing to the other shore. Jesus’ command is simple, “Follow me” (Jn 12:26; Lk 9:59; Mk 2:14; Mat 9:9; et alibi).
C. They respect – The text says that they “took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was.” Even in the Greek, this text is a bit complex. What does it mean that they took Jesus in the boat “just as he was”? Many think that the text is trying to indicate that Jesus was in fact already in the boat. Thus a possible understanding is that they took Jesus with them in the boat because in fact he was already aboard.
Perhaps, but for our purposes here, let’s take the text less literally: to accept Jesus into our life just as He is means to place no conditions on His admittance. It is to accept the real Jesus, not some fake or refashioned Jesus. The real Jesus is complex. He sets impossible demands but then forgives the worst of sinners, He is kind and understanding one moment, but stern and refusing of any excuses the next. He consoles and challenges, affirms and unsettles.
Many today have attempted to remake Jesus into a kind of “harmless hippie” who told pleasant stories and went around blessing everyone. And while it is true that He blessed many, He was a stumbling block for others. Jesus was a master preacher and storyteller but He also warned in those stories that some were sheep and some were goats, some were wise and some were foolish, some were at the feast and others were cast out into the darkness, some heard “Come blessed of my Father” and others heard “I know you not, depart from me you evildoers.” And elsewhere Jesus warned, Unless you come to believe that I AM, you will die in your sins (Jn 8:24). So Jesus is complex and we must learn to accept Him into our lives “just as he is.” St. Paul lamented, For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached … you put up with it well enough (2 Cor 11:4). Learn of the real Jesus and accept Him just as He is.
So having taken Jesus into the boat, they commence the journey to the other shore. But the journey is not always smooth, for the waters of this world are choppy and the winds are contrary.
III. For indeed, next comes the CONCERN: And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. Here they are, the inevitable storms of life that will test and purify our faith. Such aspects of life often trouble us greatly.
Why does God permit such things? Why do they last so long? Why does God, who could instantly solve all things, allow trouble to go on?
He has His reasons, most of which are mysterious. However we can surely understand some of the ways in which trouble helps to purify and strengthen us. When we are in trouble we discover gifts we didn’t know we had; we gain wisdom; we learn detachment and humility. In living our questions we deepen our search and grow to appreciate the answers and the truth more. Trouble often brings maturity and helps us to hone our skills. No tension, no change. Trouble is also tied up in the freedom God allows His children. Some abuse their freedom and cause harm.
So we can get a small glimpse of why God permits trouble. Yet much is still mysterious.
Some people even notice that storms in their life increase rather than decrease after they begin to follow Christ! Well, take that as a compliment. Maybe there was a time in your life when you were traveling in a similar direction to Satan and so barely noticed him on the periphery. And then you turned around and ran right into him. Do not despair; you are still going in the right direction and Satan doesn’t like it.
Indeed another reason that those who set out on a voyage to cross the sea often encounter more storms than the “land-lovers” who stay back in mediocrity is that, frankly, there are more storms at sea.  The “sea” here is a symbol of the way of the cross as opposed to the wide road that leads to destruction (cf Mat 7:13). The way of the cross is bound to have special troubles, but the cross, though not comfortable, is necessary. Jesus says, If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. But since you are not of the world, for I have called you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:19). So again, take storms like these as a compliment, a sign you have set out with Christ across the deeper waters.
And thus this storm at sea is a picture of our life in this storm-tossed world. An old hymn says,
When the storms of live are raging stand by me.
When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.
IV. But note the CALM of Jesus that brings peace to the others: But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
In life it seldom helps to be in a panic. If you want to bring peace, you have to be at peace. Jesus is not unaware of the storm, but He is not alarmed by it. He is able to sleep through it just fine. In life, two people can be involved in the same incident and yet have very different experiences.
Some years ago I was out walking with a friend when a large dog, a Golden Labrador, came lumbering toward us. I had grown up with dogs and thus could tell the difference between a dog moving aggressively and one approaching benignly seeking merely to establish contact. But my friend had not grown up with dogs and in fact had been bitten by one as a youngster. Each of us looked at the dog approaching us. We saw the same scene but reacted to it very differently. My friend was afraid, while I was delighted. He reacted angrily and defensively. I put my hand out and greeted the dog, patting it on the head and letting it smell my hand. With my experience, I was able to bring peace to the situation. An agitated reaction might well have provoked the dog to turn aggressive.
And so we see something similar here in the boat. Jesus is able to sleep peacefully in the storm, but the disciples are panicked. Jesus knows His Father; He also knows the end of the story. Do you? Have you not read that for those who love and trust in the Lord all things work together for good? (cf Rom 8:28) Why are we so afraid? Storms will come and storms will go, but if we love God we will be saved, even if we die to this world.
If you have this peace, you too will calm storms. Peaceful people have an effect on others around them. We cannot give what we do not have. Ask the Lord for a heart that is at peace, not just for your own sake but for that of others. Because He is at peace, Jesus can rebuke the storm. How about you?
V. Finally, note the CHARGE:  “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”
And thus it is that the Lord charges them to grow in faith so as to be at peace and to bring peace to others. How do we lay hold of this peace? By growing in our experience and in our wonder and awe at what the Lord can do, and by learning to trust that God is bigger than our storms and concerns. We also learn that some of the storms are actually to our benefit; they help to strengthen us, even speeding our journey along.
Faith is a way of knowing. And thus we who grow in it are less terrified of storms. We have come to experience how God delivers us and strengthens us, often in paradoxical ways, and that none of the things of this world can destroy us if we have faith.
In my own life I have made this part of the journey to greater faith. I used to be very anxious about many things. Today I am seldom anxious because I have learned by faith and experience that God is working His purposes out. Most of the things I was anxious about in the past turned out fine, or at the very least OK. And even the stunning blows contained secret gifts, hidden at the time, only to be revealed later. This is the knowing of faith, that brings calm in the storms of life.
So our charge is to have faith.
Here, then, is a quick sketch of our life as disciples. We hear the CALL of the Lord to set out. We COMMENCE our journey with Him. Whatever the CONCERNs or storms, we learn the CALM of Jesus and let it reach us by the CHARGE of faith.

Three Teachings on Corpus Christi

The feast of Corpus Christi affords us an opportunity to renew our understanding of the Holy Eucharist and Sacred Liturgy. It also helps us clarify certain errors that have crept into our thinking. Let’s look at the readings today under three headings: The Righteousness of our Worship, the Reality of our Worship, and Readiness of our Worship.

The Righteousness of our Worship – In the first reading today Moses has the faithful swear an oath:

Taking the Book of the Covenant, he read it aloud to the people, who answered, “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.” Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.”

Jesus too gives a solemn command at the Last Supper:

Take and eat, this is my Body… take and drink this is my Blood of the new and everlasting Covenant…do this is in memory of me.

He too seals the covenant, not with the blood of animals, but with his very own blood. We who would heed and do all that the Lord commands cannot skip out on Holy Communion and absent ourselves from the Sacrifice and Liturgy that is at the very heart of the New Covenant.

Too many people today think of Sunday worship in rather egocentric terms. They speak of “being fed.” But usually what they mean by this is that the preacher gave them an uplifting message in terms that please them and seem relevant to them, or that the choir sang well and there was good fellowship. These are all fine.

But the first and most essential reason that we are to show up on Sunday is to worship God, to give Him the thanks and adoration He is due. To worship is an act of justice and righteousness. St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa does not put worship where we might expect it, (likely under Faith or Love). Rather he puts worship in his treatise on Justice. We owe God praise, gratitude and adoration. He is the source of every blessing, all that we call our own is really His, everything, quite literally every thing is his and generously shared by Him. God has been too good to us for us to shirk our duty to worship and obey him. Even our troubles work together for our good, if we trust God. To fail in our duty to worship God on his terms is to fail in righteousness and justice. When Jesus says, “Do this is remembrance of me,” we owe him obedience in this regard. Our faithful Sunday worship and regular and worthy reception of Holy Communion is our righteous worship and an act of Justice.

The Reality of our Worship – In the Gospel today Christ makes it clear that we are receiving him: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The Eucharist is no mere symbol of Jesus. Sadly today, many Catholics, according to polls, have lost faith in the Eucharist, seeing it as only a symbol. But we do not partake of a symbol; the Eucharist is truly the Lord. Neither is it a “piece” of His flesh; it is Christ, living, glorified, whole and entire. Scripture attests to this in many places.

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20).

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a partaking in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a partaking in the body of Christ? (1 Cor 10:16).

They recognized him in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:35).

For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Cor 11:29).

I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:51).

This last passage is a profound theology of the Eucharist from Jesus Himself. He makes it clear that we are not to think of the Eucharist as symbolic.

As Jesus spoke the words saying that the bread was His flesh, the Jewish people grumbled in protest. Jesus did not seek to reassure them or to say that He was speaking only symbolically. Rather, He became even more adamant, shifting His choice of words from the polite form of eating, φάγητε (phagete, meaning to eat), to the impolite form, τρώγων (trogon, meaning to munch, gnaw, or chew).

So insistent was He that they grasp this, that He permitted most of them to leave, no longer following in His company due to this teaching (cf Jn 6:66). Yes, the Lord paid quite a price for His graphic and “hard” teaching (Jn 6:60).

Today, He asks us, Do you also want to leave me? (Jn 6:67) We must give our answer each time we approach the altar and hear the words, “The Body of Christ.” It is at this time that we respond, “Amen,” as if to say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68).

Would that people grasped that the Lord Himself is truly present in our Churches! Were that so, one would never be able to empty our parishes of those seeking to pray with the Lord. As it is, though, only about 25% of Catholics attend Mass regularly. This is more evidence of the “narrow road” and of how few there are who find it. Two thousand years ago, Jesus experienced that most left Him; many today continue to leave Him (or stand far away), either through indifference or false notions.

What father would not be alarmed if one of his children stopped eating? Consider, then, God’s alarm that many of us have stopped eating.

The Readiness of our Worship – Notice that in preparing for the Last Supper and First Mass, Jesus told two of his disciples to enter Jerusalem and look for an unusual thing, a man carrying a water jar. This was usually women’s work and thus a man doing so would stand out. They were to follow him, and: he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Now, this is for us a spiritual prescription for the inner room that is our soul:

    • It is to be large, a spacious place not cluttered with sin and worldly trinkets trappings and distractions. There is to be plenty of room for the Lord, who is the guest of our soul in Holy Communion!
    • It is to be furnished with holiness, justice, patience and love to receive so great a guest as Jesus!
    • It is to be ready. That is, it is to be clean, free of the filth of sin and fully apportioned unto the great liturgy about to occur in every Mass. The heart and mind are to be eagerly alert, awaiting in full readiness our divine Guest!

Of course, at the heart of this large upper room furnished and ready, is to be free of serious sin as St. Paul admonishes:

The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me….” Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Each one must examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Cor 11:24-29)

Because of this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church plainly states: Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before approaching Holy Communion (Catechism # 1385). For how can the upper room of our soul be spacious, furnished and ready if it is filled with sin? In my own parish we hear confessions before every Sunday Mass to ensure the faithful an opportunity to confess if necessary or simply out of devotion.  If we priests are to be sincere in promoting the worthy reception of Holy Communion, we must be generous in celebrating the Sacrament of Confession and the faithful must be zealous in seeking it when necessary.

Here then are three teachings and reminders about Holy Communion. May we be righteous in our observance, real in our understanding and ready in our souls!

 

 

The Cross Wins, It Always Wins. A Meditation on the Gospel of the Fifth Sunday of Lent

The Gospel today is, to the world and to those who are perishing, utter madness, utter foolishness. For Christ, in effect, declares that dying (to this world) is the only way to true life. While the world’s so-called wisdom declares to us that the way to life is power, prestige, possessions and popularity, Jesus says, die to all that and you’ll find true life.

The word “paradox” refers to something that is contrary to the usual way of thinking. And the true gospel, (not the watered down, compromised one) is a real insult to the world.

To those who would scoff at this way of the Cross there is only one thing to say, “The Cross wins, it Always wins.

Let’s examine the Lord’s Paradoxical Plan to save us and bring us to new life using three keywords: Everyone, everything and Everlasting.

I. Everyone: As the Gospel opens we find a rather strange incident. The text says,  Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

What is odd is the apparent “over-reaction” that Jesus has to the simple fact of some Greeks wishing to speak to him. From this seemingly simple and unremarkable (to us) fact, Jesus senses the stunning fact that his “hour” has now come. Yes, now the time for his glorification, that is, his suffering, death and resurrection, to take place. He goes on later to say, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

Yes, all this from the simple fact that certain Greeks, i.e. certain Gentiles wish to speak to him.

Even more remarkable, is that nothing in the text indicates that Jesus in fact goes over to speak to them. Having given this stunning soliloquy and announced that the drama was to unfold, there is no evidence that he eagerly goes to the Greeks to evangelize them. We will see why this in a moment.

But first let us examine why this simple request throws the whole switch on for Holy Week to unfold. In effect, the arrival of the Gentiles fulfills a critical prophecy about the Messiah wherein He would gather the nations unto himself and make of fractured humanity one nation, one family. Consider two prophesies:

  1. I come to gather nation of every language; they shall come and see my glory. just as the Israelites bring their offering to the house of the Lord in clean vessels. Some of these I will take as priests and Levites says the Lord….All mankind shall come to worship before me says the Lord. (Is 66:18, 23)
  2. And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, every one who keeps the Sabbath, and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant– these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Is 56:6-7)

Thus we see that one of the principle missions of the Messiah would be to save, not only the Jewish People, but all people and to draw them into right worship, and unity in the one Lord. Jesus explicitly states elsewhere his intention to gather the Gentiles:

I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:14).

And so it is that this apparently simple request of the Greeks (Gentiles) to see Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, carries such significance for him (and us).

But why not run and greet them at once? Simply put, the call and salvation of the Gentiles must wait for the death and the resurrection of Jesus to be accomplished. It will be his atoning death that will reunite us with the Father and with one another. A simple sermon or slogan like “Can’t we all get along” isn’t going to accomplish the deeper unity necessary. Only the Blood of Jesus can bring true Shalom with the Father and wit one another, only the blood of Jesus can save us.

Consider this text from Ephesians:

But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both {Jews and Gentiles] one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Eph 2:13ff)

Thus, nothing but the Blood of Jesus can make us whole, can save us or make us one, either with the Father or each other. There is no true unity apart from Christ and he secures it by his blood and the power of his cross. Only by baptism into the paschal mystery do we become members of the Body of Christ and find true and lasting unity, salvation, and true peace.

So the door has opened from the Gentiles side, But Jesus knows the way through door goes by way the Cross. His apparent delay in rushing to greet the Gentiles makes sense in this light. Only after his resurrection he will say, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.... (Matt 28:19) for now there is the power through baptism to make all one in Christ. The Price of our salvation, our new life, our peace with each other, and the Father, is the death and Resurrection of Jesus. And thank the Lord, Jesus paid that price. An old songs says Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan! Oh, the grace that brought it down to man! Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span! At Calvary!

II. Everything – Jesus goes on to say Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.

Now while it is true that Jesus pays the price for our peace and unity, with the Father and which each other, it is also true that he sets forth and prescribes a pattern for us and applies it. Note that Jesus says, Amen, Amen I say to YOU….and again he says, Whoever serves me must follow me.

Thus the pattern of his dying and rising to new life must also be applied to the pattern of our life. And if we seek unity and peace and to enjoy this new life with the Father, we must die to rise again. We must follow in the footsteps of Jesus. If we want peace we have to be willing to accept the pattern of dying fro it and rising to it.

How must we die for this? Well we have to die to:

  1. Our ego
  2. Our desire for revenge
  3. Our hurts from the past
  4. Our desire to control everything
  5. Our sinful and unbiblical agendas
  6. Our irrational fears rooted in ego and exaggerated notions
  7. Our hatreds
  8. Our unrealistic expectations
  9. Our stubbornness
  10. Our inflexibility
  11. Our impatience
  12. Our unreasonable demands
  13. Our greed
  14. Our worldliness

Yes, we have to be willing to experience some sacrifices for unity and to obtain new life. We have to let the Lord put a lot of sinful and unhealthy drives to death in us. New life does not just occur, Peace and unity do not just happen. We have to journey to them through Calvary. We too must allow the Lord to crucify our sinful desires and thereby rise to new life.

But remember, the Cross wins. It always wins.

III. Everlasting-  – Jesus speaks of a great promise of new life but presents it in a very paradoxical way. He says: Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

In other words, if we are not willing to follow the pattern he sets forth above of dying to ourselves and to this world, we cannot truly live. And if we go on clinging to our worldly notions of life and live only for ourselves, and for power, possessions, popularity, and prestige, we are already dead. For indeed, if we live only for the things of this world (and many do), ours is a cruel and laughable fate, for we die and lose all. Yes, total losers.

But if we allow the Lord to help us die to the this world’s agenda, to its pathetic charms, then, and only then do we pass increasingly to real life, to true unity with the Father and to deeper unity with one another in Christ.Only then does a newer, deeper life dawn upon us and do we see our lives dramatically transformed day to day.

Jesus had to die to give this to us. And in order to have it bestowed on us, and we must be configured to Christ’s death to this world in order to live in him and find this new life. We die to a sinful and overrated world, to live in a whole new way in a life open to something richer than we can ever imagine.

Note too, Jesus calls this new life, “eternal life.” But eternal life means far more than to live forever. Rather “eternal,” while not excluding the notion of endless length,  more deeply means “to become fully alive.”

And for those who know Christ, this process has already begun. At age 50, my bodily life has suffered setbacks. But spiritually I am more alive than I ever was at 20, and wait till I’m 80! Our bodies may be declining, but our souls are growing younger and more vibrant, more fully alive, if we love and trust Christ. Yes, I am more joyful, more serene, more confident, less sinful, less angry, less anxious, more compassionate, more patient, more alive!

But all of this comes from dying to this world, little by little and thus having more room for the life Christ offers.

What is the price of our Peace and our new life? Everything! For we shall only attain to it by dying to this world. And while our final physical death will seal the deal, there are all the ten thousand little deaths that usher in this new life even now. Our physical death is but the final component of a lifelong journey in Christ. For those who know Christ, the promise then will be full. For those who rejected him, the loss will be total.

An old song says, Now I’ve given Jesus everything, Now I gladly own Him as my King, Now my raptured soul can only sing Of Calvary!

Yes, the promise is real, but it is paradoxically obtained. The world calls all this foolishness. But you decide. Choose either the “wisdom of this world” or the folly of Christ. As for me, call me a fool, but make sure you add I was a fool for Christ. I do not mind. The cross wins, it always wins.

This song says:

Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
On Calvary.

Refrain:
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
To Calvary.

Now I’ve given Jesus everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
Of Calvary!

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary!

 

Cleansed and Protected by the Commandment. A Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent

The first reading today contains the Ten Commandments and thereby communicates a brief but sweeping summary of the Christian and Biblical moral vision. Now, there is a tendency to reduce the Christian moral vision merely to a set of rules. And it is a sad fact that the Catholic Church is often identified by many more for her rules than anything else.

TO be fair, EVERY group and activity has rules. If you join a bowling league there are rules, if you drive on the highway there are rules, if you go work or even to the store there are rules. If you speak a language there are rules. Rules are a necessary reality whenever two or more people interact.

But to see the Christian Moral vision, or the Ten Commandments  simply as a set a rules is to wholly miss the point. For the Commandments seek not so much to have us obey as to have us be open to what God can do for us. They seek not so much to compel us as to conform us unto the image of the transformed and glorious humanity that Christ died to give us.

The Commandments do not so much prescribe, as describe the what the transformed human person is like. And their imperative form is not merely to order us about, but rather is to convey the power that comes from God’s Word. For the same God who commands: “Let there be light” and thus there is light,  also says, “Be holy” and thus conveys to us the power to actually become holy, if we will accept his transformative work. He thus commands to create in us the very holiness he announces.

If we would but see the Commandments as promises, as power, as proleptic (i.e. announcing ahead of time what we will become fully the case later), we would be far let resentful and far more joyful in what the Lord offers. Lets consider aspects of these Commandments today that may help us come to a more helpful understanding of the Christian and Biblical moral vision. For they describe the life Jesus died to give us, a wholly transformed and increasingly glorified life, as we see sins put to death and every kind of virtue come alive.

I. I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. In the first Command, is the promise that we experience increasing love God above all things, above all people and above life in this world itself.

We were made to know God and to have our life centered on him. This is what properly orders and orients us. Whenever we prize any thing or person above God, our lives become miserable and disordered very quickly. If we live for money, power, sex, possessions, popularity, or anything less than God, we are unhappy and our life goes out of order very quickly.

In the first commandment God promises us an increasingly well ordered heart that loves him and his heavenly kingdom above any earthly things. He promises us freedom from the shackles and slavery of this world which seek to claim us, divide our hearts and disorder our life from our true goal.

In this command the Lord seeks to heal our duplicitous and adulterous hearts and to order us to the “one thing necessary,” which is to know and love God above all things. What a blessing, what promise to have our petulant, divided and wounded hearts made whole and directed to God.

So much serenity comes from being focused on the ONE, who is God. And God can do this for us.

II. You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain – In this command the Lord  promises a heart with which to love him. For to revere the Name of God is to have deep love for God, a deep experience of wonder and awe. It is to have also experienced God’s tender and abiding love for us. And with this gift to love God, comes a heart that is sensitive and open to every gift the Lord wants to give.

When we love God we keep his ways not because we have to but because we eagerly want to. To fear his name is revere and love God, to have deep gratitude and to be docile and open to his every word. We love God’s name because we love him.

God can give us this gift to love him in a deep and  abiding way. He promises it in this commandment.

III. Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. In this Commandment the Lord promises us a joyful sense of resting in him and of allowing him to minister to us.

Too many see Church as a duty, but to those who are transformed by God and alive in his love, Holy Mass is the greatest privilege of their life. What a joy to go and be with God and among God’s people, and to hear the joyful shout, and to praise the God we love. What a privilege to be taught by God and fed with his Body and Blood, to be strengthened for every good work.

And as the Lord begins to transform our hearts, we begin to look forward to the greatest day of the week, Sunday. We joyfully anticipate going to be with our Lord and hearing his voice and having deep communion with him and all the saints and angels.

Yes, God can give us a heart for worship, a desire for praise, a hunger for his Word, and for the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. No more is Mass a tedious ritual, it is a transformative reality. Again, God promises this and he can do it for us.

IV. Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you. Here too is a promise of God to give us a deep love for our parents, elders, lawful authority and an openness to the wisdom of the elders who have long preceded us. He promises to cool our pride and the rebellion that close us off from the blessings of obedience and reverence for the wisdom of the elders.

One of the chief problems of the modern age is our disrespect for elders. Even parents and elders who are not perfect (and none are) have important things to teach me. I learned probably as much from my parents struggles as from their strengths.

But without reverence and respect there can be no teaching, no handing on of previous wisdom and knowledge. We live in times that are largely cut off from the past and we are dismissive of previous generations.

Because of our pride there comes forth a hermeneutic of discontinuity, of disconnectedness from the past. We do a lot of stupid things and lack wisdom that was common in the past. In this command the Lord promises us a heart that is docile, i.e. open to instruction, a heart that reveres and listens to the wisdom of elders, lawful authority and past generations.

The Lord wants to unlock for us the collected wisdom of thousands of years of experience wherein he taught our ancestors and guided them over and through many trials, difficulties, victories and joys.  In this command the Lord describes and promises to quell the rebellion and pride that lock us down and turn us in ourselves.

V. You shall not kill. – In this Command the Lord promises to quell the anger, hate, resentfulness and revengeful spirit that eat at us and unleash terrible destruction.

The Lord describes a transformed person who has authority over his anger and is able to love even his enemies, who is able to forgive and keep serenity even under trial.

The Lord describes a person who loves and respects life, a person who works to build up life in others rather than tear down.

He describes a person who reverences the sacredness of every human life and sees in it hand and the love of God.

God describes here one who is joyful at life, ecstatic over eternal life and eager to share life and love with others, both here and in the life to come. What a gift simply to love others. And God can do this for us.

VI. You shall not commit adultery. – Here the Lord promises to quell the often unruly passions of lust. He declares that the transformed human person has authority over his or her sexuality. The Lord also offers us a joyful reverence for the sacredness of human life in its origins and for marriage.

Too many people today are enslaved to sexuality through terrible addictions to pornography. Many have difficulty with fornication, masturbation, adultery. Homosexual acting out is also a terrible problem today. And the consequences of all the sexual bondage of our times is high: STDs, AIDS, abortion, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood (absent fatherhood), high divorce rates, cohabitation, and the huge toll all this takes on children who are raised in all this confusion, and lack of proper family foundations.

God wants to set us free. He wants to cool our lusts, give us authority over our sexuality and bring us to sexual maturity.

The transformed human person God describes here reverences the gift of sexuality and knows is purpose and place. God can give us pure hearts, and minds and promises it in this commandment.

VII. You shall not steal. – In this commandment the Lord wants to instill in us a gratitude for what we have, and to quell our greed, and cool our fear. For some steal out of fear that they do not have enough, others on account of greed, still others because they are not satisfied with what they already have.

God also, in this Commandment wants to give us a love for the poor and desire to share our excess with them. For if I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor. And to unreasonably withhold my excess from the poor is a form of theft.

The transformed human person God describes, is generous, grateful, and increasingly free of the fear that makes him hoard. Here too, God promises a new and generous heart and he who commands it is he who will accomplish it.

VIII. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. – God here describes and promises a great love for the truth and a reverence for the reputation of others. In a way there is nothing more precious in human terms than our reputation for by it all other doors are opened.

The transformed human person loves others and is eager to point to their gifts when others would detract or calumniate. He is not interested in sharing or hearing unnecessary information about others and says only the good things that people really need to hear.

The transformed person also speaks the truth in love. He or she has a well trained tongue and speaks only to glorify God. His conversation is always full of grace, seasoned with salt (Col 4:6). God who commands this is the same God who can will do this for us.

IX & X . You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him. Here the Lord whats to quell within us the fires of Greed. Greed is the insatiable desire for more. And when greed takes off we are miserable, never having enough, always wanting and needing more.

The Lord wants to set us free from the aching desire to possess what another has.

He wants to give us a heart that is increasingly set upon and satisfied with the good things waiting for us in heaven. Yes, the Lord describes the transformed human person as once again freed from enslaving passions.

God who commands this is also the God who can do this.

See how different this understanding is from understanding the Christian and Biblical moral vision as rules? They are not rules, they are releases. They are not hoops to jump through, they are hopes that inspire. How do you see the Commandments?

In the Gospel today Jesus cleanses the temple and says they have turned it into a marketplace. But you are the Temple of God, and the danger for us is that we sell ourselves short by accepting mediocrity. We sell our souls to the world, the flesh and the devil, and take, in exchange, their false and empty promises.

The Lord enters the temple of our souls and seeks to drive out every huckster who seeks to buy us out. Jesus has already paid the price of our redemption. And our totally transformed life, the life described in the Commandments and the moral vision of the Scriptures is the life that Christ died to give us. Do not settle for anything less. 99 1/2 won’t do, Got to make a Hundred.

Losing our Leprosy (In Four Easy Steps) – A Meditation on the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday of the Year

In today’s Gospel we see the healing of a leper (this means you and me). Leprosy in Scripture is more than just a physical illness, it is also a euphemism for sin. Leprosy itself is not sin, but it resembles sin and what sin does to us spiritually. For sin, like leprosy, disfigures us; it deteriorates us, it distances us (for Lepers had to live apart from the community), and it brings death if it is not checked. Yes, sin is a lot like leprosy.

Psalm 38 is a biblical example of how sin is compared to leprosy:

There is no soundness in my flesh because of thy indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me. My wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning… there is no soundness in my flesh…My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my kinsmen stand afar off.

Perhaps a brief description of physical leprosy might be in order, just so we can further appreciate both the physical illness and also, by analogy, how sin devastates us in stages. I have compiled this description from several sources; among them, William Barclay’s Commentary on Mark. I reading this, you will see how Psalm 38 above quite vividly compares sin to leprosy:

Leprosy begins with an unaccountable lethargy and pains in the joints. Then there appear on the body, especially on the back, symmetrical discolored patches with pink and brown nodules and the skin becomes thickened. Gradually the symptoms move to the face and the nodules gather especially in the folds of the cheek, the nose, the lips and the forehead. The whole appearance of the face is changed till a person loses his human appearance and looks more like a lion. The nodules grow larger and larger and they begin to ulcerate, and from them comes a foul discharge of puss. The eyebrows fall out and the eyes become staring. The voice becomes hoarse and the breath wheezes because of the ulceration of the vocal cords. Eventually the whole body becomes involved. Discolored patches and blisters appear everywhere. The muscles waste away, the tendons contract until the hands look more like claws. Next comes the progressive loss of fingers and toes until a whole hand or foot may drop off. It is a kind of a terrible and slow, progressive death of the body.

The disease may last from ten to thirty years and ends in mental decay, coma, then finally death.

Yet this was not all. The lepers had not only to bear the physical torment of the disease, they also had to bear the mental anguish and heartache of being completely banished from society and totally shunned. They were forced to live outside of town in leper areas. Everyone they knew and loved was lost to them and could only be seen from a distance.

In the middle ages when a person was diagnosed with leprosy, they were brought to the Church and the priest read the burial service over them for in effect they were already dead, though still alive.

This description of leprosy shows how the illness develops, disfigures deteriorates and distances the leper, and ultimately there is death. As we shall see, not every diagnosis of Leprosy was accurate, since many skin aliments, (such as psoriasis) can resemble the early stages of leprosy. Later, if the skin cleared up or remained stable, the supposed leper could be readmitted to the community.

But what of us, spiritual lepers? How are we to lose our leprosy and find healing? The Gospel suggests four steps to find healing from our spiritual leprosy of sin.

I. Step One – Admit the Reality – The text says simply, A leper came to Jesus, and kneeling down, begged him and said, “If you wish you can make me clean. But see, he knows he is a Leper, he knows he needs healing. He humbles himself, kneeling and pleads for cleansing.

And what of us? Do we know our sin? Do we know we need healing? Are we willing to ask? We live in times where sin is often made light of and confessional lines are short. Too easily, we excuse our faults by blaming others (It’s not my fault, my mother dropped me on my head when I was two). Or perhaps we point to some other sinner, apparently worse and think, “Well at least I’m not like him.”

But the fact is we are loaded with sin. Too easily we are thinned-skinned, egotistical, unforgiving, unloving, unkind, mean-spirited, selfish, greedy, lustful, jealous, envious, bitter, ungrateful, smug, superior, vengeful, angry, aggressive, unspiritual, unprayerful, stingy, and just plain mean. And if all the things on the list don’t apply to you, many do and, frankly the list is incomplete. We are sinners with a capital “S” and we need serious help.

Like the leper in the Gospel, step one is to admit the reality of our sin and humbly ask the Lord for help.

II. Step Two – Accept the Relationship – Notice two things. First the Leper calls on the Lord Jesus. In effect he seeks a relationship with Jesus, knowing that it can heal him.

Note secondly how the Lord responds. The text says Jesus is moved with pity and touches him. The Greek word translated here as pity is σπλαγχνισθεὶς (splagchnistheis) and is from from splanxna, meaning  ‘the inward parts,’ especially the nobler organs – the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. These gradually came to denote the seat of the affections.

Hence the Lord is moved with a tender love for this man. The English word “pity,” though often considered a condescending word today, is rooted in the Latin pietas, referring to family love. So Jesus sees this man as a brother and reaches out to him. The touch of Jesus was an unthinkable action at that time. No one would touch a leper, or even come close to one. Lepers were required to live out of town in the nearby caves. But Jesus is God, and loves this man. And in his humanity, Christ sees this leper as a brother. Scripture says,

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why HE IS NOT ASHAMED TO CALL THEM BRETHREN, saying, “I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee. (Heb 2:11)

As for us, it is in our saving relationship to the Lord, a relationship established by faith, that we are justified, transformed, healed and ultimately saved. If we would be free of the leprosy of our sin we must accept the saving relationship with Jesus and let him touch us.

III. Step Three – Apply the Remedy – Having healed him, note that Jesus instructs him to follow through in this manner: Jesus said to him, See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.

Among the ancient Jews it was the priests who were trained and empowered to recognize leprosy and its healing. For, as already stated, leprosy in its early stages can resemble other skin aliments. Perhaps it is leprosy, or perhaps it is just dermatitis, or psoriasis, or eczema. Priests were trained to make observations and either banish someone, or readmit them to the community. For sometimes, out of an abundance of caution, a person was dismissed on suspicion of leprosy, but the condition cleared up or remained stable. It was the priest who made the decisions for the community.

And, of course we have here a metaphor for sacramental confession. For what does the priest do in confession? He assesses a person’s spiritual condition, and having seen God’s healing mercy at work in a person’s repentance, reconciles, or, in the case of serious sinners, readmits them into the full communion of the Church. It is God who forgives, just like the leper in this story, but the Lord ministers through the priest.

And thus for us, spiritual lepers, the Lord gives the same instruction. “Go show yourself to the priest.” That is,  “Go to confession!” And the Lord adds, “Offer for your cleansing what is prescribed.” That is, say,  “Offer your penance.”

But someone might say, Why should he bother? The Lord has already healed him. To which we can only answer, “Just do what Jesus says: Show yourself to the Priest, offer your penance.” It is true, God can forgive directly, but it is clear enough from a passage like this, that confession is to be a part of the believer’s life, especially in the case of serious sin. To those who balk, the simple answer must be, “Just DO what Jesus says.”

So, having admitted the reality, accepting the relationship and applying the remedy, there remains a fourth step.

IV. Step Four – Announce the Result – When God heals you, you have to tell somebody. There’s just something about joy. It can’t hid. And people know when you’ve been changed.

That said, there are perplexities about this part of the Gospel. For, as the text says, Jesus “sternly warns him” NOT to tell a soul, other than the priest. The Greek text is even stronger, for it says Jesus warned him ἐμβριμησάμενος (embrimēsamenos); which means to snort with anger, to exert someone with the notion of coercion, springing out of displeasure, anger, indignation, or antagonism. It means to express indignant displeasure with some one; and to thus charge them sternly. So we see a very strong and negative command of Jesus. There is nothing ambiguous about the fact that he angrily warns this man to remain silent.

That this, and other places where the Lord issues similar commands, is puzzling, is an understatement. And yet, the reason is supplied; namely that Jesus did not want his mission turned into a circus act where people gathered to watch miracles and merely to see “signs and wonders.” Clearly this man’s inability to remain silent means that Jesus can no longer enter a place quietly, and that many sought him for secondary reasons.

That said, commands to remain silent cannot remain true for us who are under standing order # 1: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt 28:19)

Hence it is clear we NEED to shout what the Lord has done for us and give him all the glory. And, honestly, when God acts in your life there is joy, and joy cannot be hid or suppressed. If our healing is real, we can’t stay silent. To quote Jesus at a later stage, and when the Temple leaders told him to silence his disciples, I tell you, if they keep quiet, the very rocks will cry out (Lk 19:40).

At the heart of evangelization is announcing what the Lord has done for us. An Old Gospel song says, “I thought I wasn’t gonna testify…but I couldn’t keep it to myself, what the Lord has done for me!

Yes, tell somebody what the Lord has done. If the healing is real, you can’t keep silent.

Loosing our Leprosy in Four Easy Steps.

Are You a Tombstone or a Living Stone? A Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter

By His resurrection, Jesus has brought us from death to life. He has snatched us from this present evil age (Gal 1:4) and from the death-directed desires of our body (Rom 6:12), and made us into a new and living creation (2 Cor 5:17). As such, we have exchanged the tombstones that once indicated we were dead in our sins and have become living stones in the spiritual edifice that is the Body of Christ and also the Church.

In the Epistle for today’s Mass (1 Peter 2:4-9), we are summoned to this new life and told what some of its characteristics are. Let’s take a look at how we go from being tombstones to living stones by considering this text in three sections.

1. The Call of Salvation Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.

Notice first the invitation that is made: Come to Him! Let yourself be built! The entire Christian life is based on our response to an invitation to accept Jesus Christ and to let Him transform our life. We are to say, “yes,” not only to Jesus, but also to what He can do for us. He will take our broken, crumbling lives and rebuild them. In what sense will He do this? Two images are offered:

Living Stones A stone is an odd image for life. There doesn’t seem to be anything less living than a stone! What does it mean to be a “living stone”? First, it means to be alive, to be full of life! Second, it means that some of the better qualities of stone are to be ours. A stone is firm, weighty, not easily moved, and able to withstand a heavy load. Thus we too are to be strong and firm in our faith, not easily moved about by the currents of the world or tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph 4:14). Stable and firm, we are also able to carry the weight and bear the difficulties imposed by this world. We are able to support and carry others in their time of need, sharing their burdens. Yes, living stones—strong, firm, not easily moved, and alive, quite alive!

A Spiritual House – The image implies that in a spiritual sense, we as living stones make up the walls of the Church. We are fitted together like stones into a wall that is strong and sure. We are not saved merely unto ourselves, but also for the sake of others. By God’s grace, we depend upon one another, each of us carrying his share of the burden. Each stone in the wall does its part. Remove one stone and the whole wall is weakened. Only together is the wall solid and sure.

2. The Choice for Salvation whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame. Therefore, its value is for you who have faith, but for those without faith: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and a stone that will make people stumble, and a rock that will make them fall. They stumble by disobeying the word, as is their destiny.

Simply put, we have a choice to make. That choice will determine if Jesus is the cornerstone who supports us or a stumbling block over which we trip and fall. It is an interesting phenomenon that when a person is being rescued at sea, sometimes the victim will reach out and grab the life ring that is tossed to them, while others will resist attempts to save them, seeing it as something that will further endanger them.

What is meant by the “cornerstone”? It usually brings to mind a ceremonial stone with an inscription and possibly some historical things embedded. Here, though, it refers more to the stone at the bottom of an arch or the row of bricks that supports the whole arch. It had to be a very carefully crafted stone since all the other stones depended on its integrity and perfect shape to support them. This is Jesus Christ for us. We are all leaning on Him; He is the perfect stone who carries our weight.

But for those who reject Christ, He is a stone over which they trip and fall. Surely Jesus wants to save us all, but some reject Him and for them He becomes a stumbling block. We cannot remain neutral about Jesus. We must decide one way or the other about Him: yes means salvation; no means condemnation. He will either be a cornerstone or a stumbling block; there is no third way. To those who knowingly reject Him, He is a stumbling block. This image also explains some of the venomous attacks on Christ and Christianity from the world. When one trips over something and falls, one tends to curse what caused the fall.

The choice is ours. May it be Christ and may He be our cornerstone—the only One on whom we can lean and rely with certainty. Only this will take us from being tombstones to living stones.

3. The Characteristics of Salvation – You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Notice four characteristics of those who are no longer tombstones, but are living stones:

Our Pedigree – The text calls us a “chosen race.” We’ve reflected on making Christ our choice, but here we are reminded that before we chose Him, He chose us. If we received an invitation to the White House, many of us would feel that we had “made it” and would proudly tell our friends of the great honor. Yet we take little notice that we are chosen by God and invited to the great Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Yes, we are chosen; we have a pedigree. We are of the household of God. This is greater than any worldly dignity and it is able to overcome any indignity that the world heaps upon us.

Our Priesthood – Each of us who is baptized into Christ Jesus is made priest, prophet, and king. This “royal” priesthood, while different from the ministerial priesthood, has this similarity: every priest is enabled to offer a sacrifice pleasing to God. In the Old Testament, priests offered up something distinct from them, usually an animal. But in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the priest and the victim are one and the same. Jesus offered Himself. All of the baptized are equipped by God to offer the pleasing sacrifice of their very selves to God. Here is a very great dignity given to us by Jesus: to have a perfect right to stand in His Father’s presence, praise Him, and offer a fitting sacrifice. Only ministerial priests of the Church can bring us the sacraments, but all baptized believers share in the royal priesthood, wherein they freely offer themselves to God.

Our Place – The text calls us a “holy nation.” To be holy means to be set apart. Hence we are called out from among the many to be a people that is set apart for God. While all are invited to Christ, only those who accept the invitation receive the grace to be called a holy nation. As such, we should understand that our role is not to “fit in” with this sin-soaked world, but rather to stand apart from it, to be recognizably distinct from it. Our behavior, priorities, love, joy, and charity should be obvious to all. To be a holy nation is a great honor, but also a great responsibility. May this curse of Scripture never be said about us: As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom 2:24).

Our Proclamation – The text says that the Lord has acted in our life so that you may announce the praises of him, who called you out of darkness into his own, wonderful light. Yes, the Lord has been good to us and is changing our lives! If you are faithful, then you know what He has done for you and you have a testimony to give. Scripture says that we were made for the praise of his glory (Eph 1:6). Do people hear you praise the Lord? Have you glorified His name among the Gentiles? (Rom 15:9) Do people know of your gratitude? Have they heard of your witness to the Lord? Can you articulate how God has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light? You ought to be a witness for the Lord! This is a necessary characteristic of those who are no longer tombstones, but living stones.

Are you a tombstone or a living stone?

A Man Who Saw by Hearing – A Meditation on the Gospel of the 30th Sunday of the Year

In today’s gospel there is a very familiar story of the healing of the blind man Bartimaeus. As with any familiar story, the danger is that we, upon hearing its opening lines say, “Oh that story,” and we just sort of tune out. But there are many things in the details of the story that we can easily miss. Ultimately the story of Bartimaeus is also our story, for we too must let the Lord heal our blindness and give us sight. One paradox of this gospel that we shall note, is that the man receives his sight as the result of hearing.

Let’s look at this gospel in 6 stages.

Stage I–Perception of the Problem–the text says, As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples, and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man sat by the roadside begging.

Bartimaeus has many troubles, he is blind, and he is poor. But although he is physically blind, he is not spiritually blind. For he knows he has troubles, he knows he is blind. And to know our troubles, to be in touch with our neediness, is an important spiritual insight that many lack.

It is possible for some to feel self-satisfied and to be unaware of how blind, pitiable, poor and naked they really are before God (cf Rev 3:17). Indeed, so poor and so needy that we depend on God for every beat of our heart. But some who are spiritually blind, lose this insight in becoming proud. They fail to ask for help from the Lord,  they fail to ask for grace. Jesus once said to the Pharisees Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but since you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:41)  In other words, physical blindness is not their problem, spiritual blindness is. And because they think themselves righteous on their own power, they do not need God nor do they truly seek him. Only humility and a true “vision” and experience of one’s poverty can help us to call out as we should.

But our blind man knows that he is blind and so he calls for help. As we shall see, however, his cries for help need some direction, a need to be properly specified and directed.

So we begin by simply noting this man is blind, but still, he has spiritual insight.

Do we have this? Do we really understand how blind we are? We struggle to see God, we struggle to see and understand ourselves, we struggle to see others with compassion and understanding. Indeed, God is more present to us than anything in this world. Yet, we see all the things of this world, and still struggle to see God. Neither do we see our own dignity, or the dignity and the gift of others,  yes, even the dignity of our enemies. We do not see or understand how things work together, and we struggle to see and find meaning in the events of our day. We are also blind to our sin, and we seldom understand what harm our sin actually does.

Yes, we have a great deal of blindness, we do struggle to see. But perhaps our worst blindness is it we do not even consider how blind we are. But too easily, like the Pharisees we go on thinking that we know a few things, and that therefore we know many things.

Consider the humility of the blind man, who knows he is blind who knows he needs help, and grace, and mercy. It is a humility that opens the door. Stage one in our journey must be the perception of the problem.

Stage II–the Proclamation that is Prescribed. – The text says  On being told it was Jesus of Nazareth who was passing by, he began to cry out and say “Jesus son of David have pity on me.”

Note the subtle but important transition here. Up until this point he was calling upon anyone, who happened to pass by, for help. But no mere passerby, nor anyone in this world, can ultimately help him with his real problem.

It is the same with us. Though we may turn to science, or medicine, philosophy, economics or politics, none of these can really help us. At best they can specify what is wrong, give us temporary medicines, passing comforts, etc. But all their solutions will be rooted in this world, which is passing away.

True vision can only be granted by the Lord, who opens for us a vision of glory, and who alone can draw safely to that place where joys will never end and visions never cease.

The blind man is told of the presence of Jesus. And hearing this, he directs his cry away from any mere passerby to the Lord who alone can heal him: Jesus, son of David, have pity on me! The world, and passersby can get him money, perhaps a meal, but only Jesus can give him meaning, the true vision that he really needs to see.

And do not miss this point that’s seeing comes paradoxically through hearing. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing from the word of God (cf Rom 10:17). It is a truth that faith is about hearing, not seeing. For most frequently, we doubt what we see. Even if our eyes see marvels, we think, “They have a way of doing that.” No, the eye is never satisfied with seeing (cf Eccl. 1:8). Faith comes by hearing, and faith is obedience to what is heard. We walk by faith, by an inner seeing, not by physical sight.

Thus, it is by hearing that the blind man will come to see Jesus who can help them to see. He hears from others that Jesus is passing by, and he takes up the proclamation that is prescribed, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!”

Stage III–the Perseverance that Produces–the text says, And they rebuked him, telling him to be silent. Yet he kept calling all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “call him.” So they called the blind man saying to him, “Take courage; get up. Jesus is calling you.

Is it true fact, that those of us who seek to put our trust in the Lord, and call on him, will often experience rebuke, hostility, and ridicule from the world. Note that the blind man ignores all of this. And so should we. He has heard the Name above all names, who alone in heaven and earth can save, and he calls upon him.

Yes, Jesus does delay, he does not answer him right away. But the blind man persevered, calling out all the more, and eventually, Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

Why does God delay? This is a very deep mystery, but it is clear that one of the effects of his delay would seem to be to test our faith and strengthen it. In the end, it is not an incantation that saves us, but faith. Simply shouting, “In the name of Jesus!” Is not enough. The Name of Jesus is not some incantation like, “Open sesame.” Rather, it is an announcement of faith, and faith is more than words. Ultimately, it is not words alone that save us, but the faith that must underlie those words, “Jesus! Save me”

Stage IV–the Priority that is Presented–the text says, He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.

Do not miss this important detail. His cloak was probably the most valuable thing he owned. In that climate, a very arid climate, it gets cool in the evening after sunset. The temperature drops rapidly. So critical was the cloak, that Scripture forbade the taking of a cloak as collateral for a loan:  If a man is poor, do not go to sleep with his pledge in your possession. Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. (Deut 24:12-13)

But note, this man cast aside his cloak, and leaving it behind, he went to Jesus. Thus, he leaves behind perhaps the most valuable and necessary thing for his survival in this world. To miss a meal, might be inconvenient but it would not kill him. But to sleep one night, a cold night, without his cloak might well end his life through hypothermia. But leaving everything, he runs to the Lord.

What of us? What are we willing to leave behind to find Christ? An old gospel song says, I’d rather have Jesus than silver and gold. Another old hymn says, There’s nothing between my soul in the Savior. Is there? Are you willing to leave it behind?? Are you and I free enough to do so?

Stage V–The Permission that is Procured–the text says, Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, Master, I want to see!

Why does Jesus asked this question? Can he not see what a blind man needs? Perhaps.

But honestly, healing takes courage. The fact is, in life, most seek mere relief. True healing takes courage because it brings change, and new demands. If the blind man is healed, it would no longer be acceptable that he should sit and beg. Having been healed, more will be expected of him. His life will be irrevocably changed.

Yes, to be healed requires courage. Many of us wonder, of the Lord’s delay in answering our prayers. Perhaps a question from last week’s gospel is applicable as we cry to the Lord: Do you have any idea what you are asking?” Often we do not.

Truth be told, most of us want relief more than healing. There is a big difference. The Lord is in the healing business, but most of us just want relief. Do not miss what the Lord says here. In effect, he says to the blind man, and to us, “Are you really sure you want healing?” The Lord respects us, and our freedom. He wants our consent before he goes to work. And often, though many of us think we want healing, we don’t really know what we are asking.

The Lord waits, until a request makes real sense. He knows that most of us are not always ready for what he really offers. He asks, and when our yes becomes definitive, he goes to work.

Stage VI – The Path that is Pursued–the text says, Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the way.

As we have already seen, true healing brings forth radical change. And now man who sat by the road begging, sees, but is also up and walking about. And what is he doing? He is  following Jesus. For faith has saved him, and faith not only gives sight, but summons us to obedience, an obedience that has us walk in the path of the Lord.

You see, (pardon the pun), faith is more than an offer of relief. True faith instills real change. A change in direction, a change in the way we walk.

And thus this gospel speaks to us of a man who was blind. And paradoxically he received his faith by hearing. For he heard of Jesus and called on him. Yes, his sight came from his hearing. And faith grants to vision by hearing. True vision, is to see Christ, and having seen him by hearing, to follow after him.

I have it on the best authority that as he followed Jesus up the road, he sang this song:

My Soul Looks Back and Wonders How I Got Over – A Homily for the 12th Sunday of the Year

Lightening Storm
The gospel today is something of a storm journal, a kind of picture of the Christian life as we journey through a stormy world against winds contrary to the gospel. There are distinctive stages, beginning with the call of Jesus to cross to the other shore. But as we cross there are surely storms and difficulties that assail us. No matter, the charge to have and keep making the crossing remains the same. Let’s look in more detail at the stages of this gospel and see how the disciples get over to the other shore with Jesus.
I. It begins with the CALL of Jesus: Let us go across to the other side. This is not merely a call to cross an ancient lake 2,000 years ago. This summons echoes down to us individually today, as the call to journey to the other shore, to Heaven.
Such crossings are not uncommon in the Scriptures. The Jewish nation crossed the Red Sea, which God parted for them. They set out as pursued slaves, crossed over, and reached the other shore to enjoy the glorious freedom of the Children of God.  And then, too, they crossed the River Jordan to enter the promised land, which is a symbol of entering Heaven. Having made that crossing, they received their inheritance.
A lot of the old spirituals contain references to crossing to the other side as symbolic of the journey to Heaven:

Michael, row the boat a-shore Hallelujah!
Then you’ll hear the trumpet blow Hallelujah!

Jordan’s river is deep and wide,
Meet my mother on the other side.

Jordan’s river is chilly and cold.
Chills the body, but not the soul.

Allow this call of Jesus, Let us go across to the other side, to be your summons to follow Him to Heaven. The disciples boarded a wooden boat to get to the other side. We cross to Heaven by the wood of the cross.

Listen to Jesus’ call and then set out! Heaven lies ahead, just over on the other shore!

II. Then comes the COMMENCEMENT: And leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he wasIt is one thing to be called by Jesus to cross to the other shore. It is another thing to respond and set out with Him. And thus the second stage of this gospel depicts the required response: that one set out, or commence the journey.
Note three things that are said here about the commencement of the journey: they renounce, they receive and they respect.
A.  They Renounce – The text says they “leave the crowd.” We are called to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil. In our Baptism we renounced the devil and by extension the world, of which he is prince. Scripture says, You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:3-4). Jesus says, No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (Mat 6:24). And yet again, I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:19).
Therefore the text says that they “leave the crowd.” They forsake the wide, popular road that leads to destruction and go out on the narrow way of the cross that leads to the other shore. You cannot have both Jesus and the world; you must choose. You cannot have the crowd and its values. Jesus warns, Woe to you when all speak well of you (Lk 6:26). We must be ready to leave the crowd, forsake popular ideas, and embrace the “foolishness” of the cross.
B. They Receive – The text says that they “took Jesus with them in the boat.” That is, they receive Jesus into the “boat” that is their life. They agree to journey with Him, not the world. They let Him pilot their ship. In the baptismal liturgy not only do we renounce Satan and the pomps of the world, we also accept Christ and profess our belief in God—Father, Son, and Spirit—and in the Church, which is Christ’s Body. Now Jesus enters the “boat” of our life and leads us in the crossing to the other shore. Jesus’ command is simple, “Follow me” (Jn 12:26; Lk 9:59; Mk 2:14; Mat 9:9; et alibi).
C. They respect – The text says that they “took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was.” Even in the Greek, this text is a bit complex. What does it mean that they took Jesus in the boat “just as he was”? Many think that the text is trying to indicate that Jesus was in fact already in the boat. Thus a possible understanding is that they took Jesus with them in the boat because in fact he was already aboard.
Perhaps, but for our purposes here, let’s take the text less literally: to accept Jesus into our life just as He is means to place no conditions on His admittance. It is to accept the real Jesus, not some fake or refashioned Jesus. The real Jesus is complex. He sets impossible demands but then forgives the worst of sinners, He is kind and understanding one moment, but stern and refusing of any excuses the next. He consoles and challenges, affirms and unsettles.
Many today have attempted to remake Jesus into a kind of “harmless hippie” who told pleasant stories and went around blessing everyone. And while it is true that He blessed many, He was a stumbling block for others. Jesus was a master preacher and storyteller but He also warned in those stories that some were sheep and some were goats, some were wise and some were foolish, some were at the feast and others were cast out into the darkness, some heard “Come blessed of my Father” and others heard “I know you not, depart from me you evildoers.” And elsewhere Jesus warned, Unless you come to believe that I AM, you will die in your sins (Jn 8:24). So Jesus is complex and we must learn to accept Him into our lives “just as he is.” St. Paul lamented, For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached … you put up with it well enough (2 Cor 11:4). Learn of the real Jesus and accept Him just as He is.
So having taken Jesus into the boat, they commence the journey to the other shore. But the journey is not always smooth, for the waters of this world are choppy and the winds are contrary.
III. For indeed, next comes the CONCERN: And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. Here they are, the inevitable storms of life that will test and purify our faith. Such aspects of life often trouble us greatly.
Why does God permit such things? Why do they last so long? Why does God, who could instantly solve all things, allow trouble to go on?
He has His reasons, most of which are mysterious. However we can surely understand some of the ways in which trouble helps to purify and strengthen us. When we are in trouble we discover gifts we didn’t know we had; we gain wisdom; we learn detachment and humility. In living our questions we deepen our search and grow to appreciate the answers and the truth more. Trouble often brings maturity and helps us to hone our skills. No tension, no change. Trouble is also tied up in the freedom God allows His children. Some abuse their freedom and cause harm.
So we can get a small glimpse of why God permits trouble. Yet much is still mysterious.
Some people even notice that storms in their life increase rather than decrease after they begin to follow Christ! Well, take that as a compliment. Maybe there was a time in your life when you were traveling in a similar direction to Satan and so barely noticed him on the periphery. And then you turned around and ran right into him. Do not despair; you are still going in the right direction and Satan doesn’t like it.
Indeed another reason that those who set out on a voyage to cross the sea often encounter more storms than the “land-lovers” who stay back in mediocrity is that, frankly, there are more storms at sea.  The “sea” here is a symbol of the way of the cross as opposed to the wide road that leads to destruction (cf Mat 7:13). The way of the cross is bound to have special troubles, but the cross, though not comfortable, is necessary. Jesus says, If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. But since you are not of the world, for I have called you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:19). So again, take storms like these as a compliment, a sign you have set out with Christ across the deeper waters.
And thus this storm at sea is a picture of our life in this storm-tossed world. An old hymn says,
When the storms of live are raging stand by me.
When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.
IV. But note the CALM of Jesus that brings peace to the others: But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
In life it seldom helps to be in a panic. If you want to bring peace, you have to be at peace. Jesus is not unaware of the storm, but He is not alarmed by it. He is able to sleep through it just fine. In life, two people can be involved in the same incident and yet have very different experiences.
Some years ago I was out walking with a friend when a large dog, a Golden Labrador, came lumbering toward us. I had grown up with dogs and thus could tell the difference between a dog moving aggressively and one approaching benignly seeking merely to establish contact. But my friend had not grown up with dogs and in fact had been bitten by one as a youngster. Each of us looked at the dog approaching us. We saw the same scene but reacted to it very differently. My friend was afraid, while I was delighted. He reacted angrily and defensively. I put my hand out and greeted the dog, patting it on the head and letting it smell my hand. With my experience, I was able to bring peace to the situation. An agitated reaction might well have provoked the dog to turn aggressive.
And so we see something similar here in the boat. Jesus is able to sleep peacefully in the storm, but the disciples are panicked. Jesus knows His Father; He also knows the end of the story. Do you? Have you not read that for those who love and trust in the Lord all things work together for good? (cf Rom 8:28) Why are we so afraid? Storms will come and storms will go, but if we love God we will be saved, even if we die to this world.
If you have this peace, you too will calm storms. Peaceful people have an effect on others around them. We cannot give what we do not have. Ask the Lord for a heart that is at peace, not just for your own sake but for that of others. Because He is at peace, Jesus can rebuke the storm. How about you?
V. Finally, note the CHARGE:  “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”
And thus it is that the Lord charges them to grow in faith so as to be at peace and to bring peace to others. How do we lay hold of this peace? By growing in our experience and in our wonder and awe at what the Lord can do, and by learning to trust that God is bigger than our storms and concerns. We also learn that some of the storms are actually to our benefit; they help to strengthen us, even speeding our journey along.
Faith is a way of knowing. And thus we who grow in it are less terrified of storms. We have come to experience how God delivers us and strengthens us, often in paradoxical ways, and that none of the things of this world can destroy us if we have faith.
In my own life I have made this part of the journey to greater faith. I used to be very anxious about many things. Today I am seldom anxious because I have learned by faith and experience that God is working His purposes out. Most of the things I was anxious about in the past turned out fine, or at the very least OK. And even the stunning blows contained secret gifts, hidden at the time, only to be revealed later. This is the knowing of faith, that brings calm in the storms of life.
So our charge is to have faith.
Here, then, is a quick sketch of our life as disciples. We hear the CALL of the Lord to set out. We COMMENCE our journey with Him. Whatever the CONCERNs or storms, we learn the CALM of Jesus and let it reach us by the CHARGE of faith.