Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

I am going to prepare a place for you.

Throughout Saint John’s Gospel mystery shrouds Jesus’ origins. Where does he come from? Where does he live? Where is he going? He answers the questions sometimes, but his answers resolve very little. He comes from above? His kingdom is not of this world? At one point Saint John even seems to tease those who say he came from Nazareth, or was it Bethlehem?
Today we hear he will prepare a place for us, but we cannot go with him yet. Some disciples wonder if he will kill himself. It’s altogether mysterious.
And then he says, “You know the way!” which is too much for Thomas. “We don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?”
Like a house that is easy to find when you know how to get there, Jesus’ answer is clear to those who understand it. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus’ way is that of covenant, trust, faith and obedience. It is the way of forgetting what you want in order to get what you want. It is the way of finding oneself by losing oneself. It is arriving at one’s destination by setting out on the way. The destination is the road. The process is the end.

As I have lost, regained, lost again and regained again my mental balance, I realize that I wanted to “be there” in that safe, static place where everything is just right and nothing needs to change. That’s like standing still on a bicycle. It can be done but not for long. It’s a lot easier to keep moving, to stay in the way and on the road.

Jesus is the way and the destination; he is the mercy and the justice; he is the afflicted conscience and the peace of mind. 

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

The synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke -- describe Jesus’ “institution” of the Blessed Sacrament during his Last Supper. In John 6 we find a very deep sermon about the Eucharist; and, later, an unexpected approach to the mystery in the Last Supper narrative. Rather than breaking bread and sharing the cup, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.
In that gesture we glimpse the true meaning of his passion, death and resurrection. I say “glimpse” because it remains a very deep mystery. There is the silver glint of a fish seen deep in the water beneath your fishing boat. It tells you something is there. Was it a large mouth bass, a crappie, catfish or sturgeon? What do we glimpse when Jesus washes
the disciples’ feet? Does the word service describe the debt we owe one another?
Our reading of this lesson should also include the theme of betrayal. I suppose everyone has experienced betrayal; but not many of us have worked through the experience from hurt, anger, resentment and bitterness to healing, forgiveness, compassion and atonement. Betrayal often remains with other “unfinished business” as death approaches the Christian in her last hour.
But we have glimpsed the first lesson we should take from Jesus’ crucifixion. Rather than service, let’s call it presence – real presence. We want to be there for one another, present to one another as Jesus is here for us.  If service is about doing something; presence is about being something. In the ministry we often have to say, “Don’t just do something; sit there!”
The comedian Woody Allen is credited with the saying, “90% of success is showing up.” As I meet veterans in the hospital, I hear the stories of those whose fathers were “absent” although they were physically present. There were thousands of reasons why they could not and would not care for their children – anger, resentment, drugs, alcohol, sickness, work, sports, sexual obsessions etc. And, of course, many of these Veterans failed their spouses and children. They did not show up for the ceremonies of life – the birthday parties, basketball games, and family meals.
Mothers, too, are sometimes missing in action. They had children but they didn’t want to be mothers. Being truly present is never as easy as it seems.

In the hospital, behind every patient, I see the Crucified Lord. He is there, a Real Presence in their suffering. Pain, misery, betrayal and disappointment are sacred places where the Lord comes to meet us. If we look we will find him there.

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

“Whoever believes in me believes not only in me
but also in the one who sent me,
and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.
I came into the world as light,
so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness. 

Pope Benedict XVI set out five years ago to accentuate the positive about the Good News of Jesus. He didn’t want to talk about the darkness of sin. As you know if you read the newspapers, it’s been an uphill battle for him. When he wanted to celebrate the beauty and holiness of marriage, reporters peppered him with questions about same-sex marriage.
They just don’t get it.
But it’s never been easy to announce the Gospel. Face to face with the authority of Jesus and the beauty of his Way, people often say, “But what about…?” They want an out; they want to have it both ways. They’re happy to hear the good news but they want it on their own terms.
Then the Holy Father called for a Year of Prayer for Priests; as the blessed year draws to an end (June 19) he has been confronted with the spectacle of pedophilia among his priests. Under these circumstances can anyone beyond the narrow confines of the Catholic Church appreciate the crystal beauty of celibate chastity? How do we proclaim this good news?
In today’s gospel Jesus declares:
… if anyone hears my words and does not observe them,
I do not condemn him,
for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.
Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words
has something to judge him: the word that I spoke,
it will condemn him on the last day….

I hear in these words Jesus’ confrontation with the mystery of evil. There is something perverse in our fallen human nature that shuns the light and stays in the shadows. His message is so clear and delightful and appealing, but it is also jealous. It demands our undivided attention. It will brook no compromise. His brilliant light, so desirable and good, accentuates the dark shadows in our hearts. And, despite our most sincere efforts, we continue to find new, hidden chambers of darkness within our hearts.
In another gospel passage Jesus warns that “even the elect” will be sorely tried, and he taught us to pray daily, to be delivered from “the temptation.”
No Christian can say, “I am beyond all that. I have no fear of judgment. I do not stand among the wicked.”
Rather, we pray for God’s mercy on us, our sinners and our saints, our victims and our accusers. They may not be entirely right, but they are partially right. 

And we pray that we might cling to Jesus as Mary of Bethany clung to him when confronted by her saintly sister Martha. For He did not come to condemn the world, but to save it.

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

The Father and I are one.

When a human being says this of his relationship with God, he is either mad or the Son of God. As we have passed from darkness to light, winter to spring, Lent to Easter we have seen with our own eyes Jesus’ right to make his claims. He can speak with astounding authority to us; we believe and we follow.

Saint Francis of Assisi demonstrated the repentance that must characterize our following of Jesus. It is never finished; there is always more to surrender to Jesus.

Francis had an intense and clear vision of poverty. Disavowing all ownership of material, social, intellectual and spiritual property, he wanted only to know the poverty of Jesus. He would claim nothing for himself: neither home nor clothes; neither provisions of food or medicine; neither debts for favors done or rank as the head of a powerful medieval movement. Francis found in owning nothing kinship with vegetable and animal life and both the wealthy and poorest human beings. He made no more provision for tomorrow than the birds store up grain. He was truly an earthling, relying day by day on the providence of God.

As he lay dying he directed the friars to strip his clothes from him and lie him on the bare ground. But the friars refused. There were women present, and not just Lady Poverty! His good friend Lady Jacoba had come to be with him. So Friar Elias, whom Francis admired but didn’t seem to like very much, offered his own habit. Francis should lie on the bare ground in a borrowed habit. Surrendering his precious poverty and his own preferences, Francis obeyed. In the end, Francis must surrender even his vision of perfection.

He did this in imitation of Jesus who surrendered everything to his Father and would keep nothing apart from God.

If you and I can imitate neither Francis nor Jesus in the very specific ways they lived, we can reflect on the stories and let them gently change our hearts.

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Who was I to hinder God?

I love Saint Peter’s question. The Christian’s role is often to get out of God’s way. We may help set up the situation, sharing our hope and happiness and inner peace with coworkers, friends, neighbors and family. We should answer questions about our faith with sincerity and without any trace of cynicism.
We might even, on occasion, encourage them to pursue the voice that seems to be leading them on. If they share with us their inner longing we might recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd in their experience.
But finally, we get out of the way. We might suggest but we cannot control their responses. No one knows the innermost heart of another human being. No one knows when or how that other person must respond. Few can say with any certainty, “You must do it this way!”
Missionaries in foreign countries often experience that challenge. They have their own ways of responding and clearly they have followed the Holy Spirit into distant lands, far from everything that is familiar. When people around them begin to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd the missionary might say, “You must do it this way. You have to eat as I eat and dress as I dress and talk as I talk and think as I think!” Despite his sincerity the missionary may be imposing his own culture rather than bearing Christ to this foreign land.
We hear that very issue in this story from the Acts of the Apostles. The first Christians were all Jewish; they could not imagine that gentiles might be drawn to their messiah. If they were, they would certainly have to be Jewish first, and then become Christian. But the well-educated Saint Paul and the spirit-led Saint Peter opposed that plan.
They saw clearly that Jesus saves us not as a Jew but as a human being. He is, in fact, neither Jew nor gentile, male or female, slave or free. He is for all.
Perhaps, in our time, we might even think of Jesus as The Earthling who saves every earthly creature, both animal and vegetable, by his incarnation, death and resurrection.
Saint Francis understood that well! He sent his friars to preach to every creature as he spoke to the birds and Saint Anthony preached to fish. 

Fourth Sunday of Easter

We are his people, the sheep of his flock.

Shepherds were the truck drivers of the ancient mid-east. They were hard-working, dirty, under-paid, illiterate peasants who made the whole system work. Sheep provided meat, milk, cheese, wool for clothes and blankets, skin for leather and paper. Not much went to waste. But sheep, already domesticated for eight thousand years or more, were helpless in the wilderness. They had lost all their instincts for survival. Shepherds had to protect them against hunger, thirst, predators and thieves.
But shepherds were like truck drivers in that, despite their rough ways, they were admired. Kings and emperors styled themselves as shepherds who cared for their sheep, the common folks. Jewish rulers, especially, recalled David the shepherd-king. The coming messiah would be a good shepherd-king in the mode of David.
So Jesus has been called the Good Shepherd. He never leaves his flock untended except when he dies to save the flock.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says:
My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.

As I understand shepherds of every village usually brought their sheep into town each evening and kept them in a common corral, safe for the night. In the morning they returned and took the sheep back to their pasturage. The sheep sorted themselves out by listening for the voices of the shepherds. Each fellow sang to the sheep, they knew his voice and followed him through the gate and into the wilderness.

(Before the advent of mass production in noisy factories and ubiquitous electronic entertainment, people often sang while they worked. It was a way to ease themselves through back-breaking hardship. Catholics even sang in Church in those halcyon days.)

We learn the voice of Jesus in our public worship and private devotion. He kindly speaks to us with the voice of authority. We hear his voice and follow him, often out of dreadful straits. His voice is music to our ears; we love to hear him speak, especially when he calls us by name.

Many people feel abandoned by God because they do not attend to his voice. They miss both their daily prayers and their Sunday worship. But they hear the relentless voices of others gods demanding their attention and fealty. Eventually, because we human beings are sheep with trusting natures and flocking instincts, they follow these false gods into sloughs of despondency, patches of briars and bears’ dens. The Good Shepherd still calls to them but they can barely hear his voice over the cacophony of this world.

To hear the voice of Jesus we must train the ears of our faith. We pray, associate with prayerful people, read appropriate literature, keep a leery eye on trouble, and listen continually for the voice of the Good Shepherd. We pray that, when that Day comes, we will hear his familiar voice calling us by name. We will come leaping out of the corral of death and into his heavenly pastures.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, pray for vocations to leadership in the Church, especially for priests and bishops. 

Saturday of the Third Week of Easter

“Master, to whom shall we go?”

I love these frank words of Simon Peter. We have come this far, we cannot turn back. And why would we turn back, you have the words of eternal life.

True, this is only the sixth chapter of John. Peter took up the following of Jesus in the first chapter, and Jesus was alone with two other people in the third and fourth chapters. Perhaps Peter has not given enough time to this consideration. But he has been initiated into Christ. The sixth chapter’s presentation of Jesus as the Bread of Life has confirmed him. Had it taken a year his commitment could be no more; had it been only a half-day, his life was changed forever. “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

Since the reintroduction of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) to the Church, we understand the Eucharist is one of the sacraments of initiation. Through the Mass we become disciples of Christ. We remain in him and he remains in us.

We have only to continue our practice of the faith with daily prayer, weekly Mass attendance, participation in the life of the parish and the diocese, and attention to the Holy Spirit moving through our daily life.

Our commitment to Jesus Christ cannot be hidden. We are a light shining in darkness, a city on the hill. If the police were arresting people for being Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me of the crime?

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

There are few things I love more than reading a thought-provoking book. It does things to my brain! Recently I read Karen Armstrong’s A Case for God, published last year. Ms Armstrong is a former Catholic sister and she sometimes seems to have an edge against Catholicism, but she is a good scholar and she knows whereof she speaks.
A Case for God considers the devolution of the idea of God from a mystery shrouded in silence, darkness and unknowing to an almost known quantity under scientific instruments. It’s a dense book and I won’t try to condense it, but she describes how Christians and Jewish believers took up the task of proving God’s existence by the evidence of his works, as if that were necessary for faith. Of course, when the scientific community, which was sometimes hostile to religion, dismissed the half-baked theories of the religious, it seemed God himself had died.

During the Easter season we hear often hear the word mystery. As Ms. Armstrong speaks of mystery, and as I learned in theology class almost forty years ago, it is not a puzzling situation like a dime-store novel. For that matter, it is not something that can be defined with words. Mystery is what we encounter in prayer, both our personal devotions and our public liturgy. 

Armstrong describes the earliest evidence of religious belief in human history, cave paintings found throughout Europe. Some were created 40,000 years ago; some were visited as shrines for as long as 10,000 years! We’re impressed by the Roman churches that predate Christianity, but hunting tribes frequented these deep, dark caverns for millennia!  

Doing what? They were probably conducting initiation ceremonies, introducing boys to manhood. As the lads struggled through pitch black passages older men beat drums, piped music, and sang mystical songs that signified their reliance on the god of the hunt. Arriving in the caverns they found torch-lit ceilings festooned with strange symbols. The images moved as the flames dances and voices spoke to them. In a world without paper, some of the initiates may have never seen a picture before; the images of beasts and shamans looked like living gods.

Of course we cannot recreate these rituals and my last paragraph is largely speculation, but the point is this: religion is mysterious. It is stories, music, rituals, dance, smoke, fire, water and silence. It is practiced, not explained. The rituals did not define the gods; the caverns were certainly not classrooms and their gatherings were not CCD, PSR, or VBS. The rituals forced the children to come face to face with fascinating, terrifying holiness. Years later, when the same men would conduct the ceremonies for their children, although they had mastered all the tricks that so terrified them in their youth, they still believed in the gods who danced on cavern ceilings. 

Whatever we believe about our god or gods is not so important as our belief in the deity. And that comes not through memorization of catechism answers but through the raw experience of mystery.

Which brings us to today’s scripture passage, Jesus’ teaching on the Bread of Life. Do you think you know what it means? Do you suppose he is talking about transubstantiation? Do you suppose that the Church found John 6 too much mumbo-jumbo and decided to explain it all in the Baltimore Catechism?

Then read it again and this time, don’t know what it means. Experience Jesus’ challenging words that sound like cannibalism; and be shocked by its graphic imagery. You will hear in tomorrow’s gospel the response of many of Jesus disciples, “This is a hard saying! Who can believe it?”

Scholars believe the early church did not explain these words to their catechumens before the Easter Vigil. They may have been told how to receive the host – hold your hands in the form of a cross, receive it on one hand and place it in your mouth with the other, then return to your seat – but they were not told what it meant.

Later they would hear this sixth chapter of Saint John and try to understand how their lives were changed forever. And they were told to reveal this mystery to no one outside of the Church. “We must not permit the Jews or Romans to hear that we are eating flesh and drinking blood!”

Mystery is not puzzle; it is ritual in which we meet God face to face in the total darkness of ignorance and the brilliant light of faith. 

Come let us worship.

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

…whoever eats this bread will live forever;

I think it was Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque who said, “Anyone who receives the Eucharist even one time in her life will certainly go to heaven.”

I love her enthusiasm. She certainly caught it from the Gospel of Saint John.

But I want to retrace yesterday’s gospel as it follows into today’s. We heard Jesus say, Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me.

We understand nothing about Jesus if we do not see his obedience. When most people speak of God, at least in our western traditions, they are thinking of the all-powerful one who might be good but in any case does whatever he wants and gets everything he – and it’s usually he – wants.

Who is that? There are certainly many scriptural passages that speak of God as powerful, but only a culture obsessed with power would think that power is god and god is power.

When we turn to the New Testament, hearing it within the context of the Mass, we meet a God who is obedient.

That all-powerful, willful God is a medieval invention, which unfortunately (and briefly) became the god of philosophers, scientists, technicians and finally atheists. Once they realized that philosophy could explain everything about the universe without an all-powerful god, he was unceremoniously dumped; and only the misled Christian mourns his death. We no longer need such a god to control the weather, regulate earthquakes and start our automobiles – though he may have taken up residence as the poltergeist in my computer.

There is no harm in praying for good weather and machines that work, but the God of our faith comes to meet us face to face in our liturgies. I don’t expect God to show himself in the Shroud of Turin or the wood on Mount Ararat. Nor will we prove the Eucharist is really the Body of Christ with an atomic microscope, as one foolish priest proposed. Please! Spare me!

So what do we know about Jesus – he wants to save us because his Father has sent him to do so. He most certainly wants to save us because he loves us as his brothers and sisters. He loves us as a child loves his parents and a neighbor loves his friends. He has shown us his affection for everyone including his enemies, when he died on the cross.

But even more importantly, he saves us and loves us and forgives us in obedience to his Father. Jesus’ obedience is joyous and generous and enthusiastic. There is no hesitation in Jesus’ obedience. His Father cannot ask too much of him for he willingly gives everything he has and is back to his Father. Jesus hurls himself into the apparently infinite abyss of death with utter confidence that his God is worthy of the gift and worthy of such trust. He said, “Whatever may come of this god-awful crucifixion, it is Abba’s will and I will do it!”

This obedient God has shown us his Father and we believe he is no fool. AND he has shown us the Father who gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.

This is the Triune God we meet in the Eucharist. Come, let us worship.

On this Earth Day let us pray that we will learn to appreciate our Sister/Mother Earth in the Spirit of Saint Francis.

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

I am intrigued that two apparently disparate themes are braided together in the sixth chapter of John: Jesus is the bread of life and Jesus is the obedient son of God.

The Church has its policies about who should receive the Eucharist and, simply put, they are "practicing Catholics." Others are welcome to observe and pray with us, especially to pray ut unum sunt, that all may be one. The Church has the right to pronounce these policies despite the protest of people who sport WWJD? wrist bands; they reflect our reverence and our beliefs.

But the bishops of the United States have also instructed Eucharistic Ministers to give communion to anyone who approaches the altar. This policy, perhaps, reflects the attitude of Jesus as we meet him in Saint John's Gospel,
       I will not reject anyone who comes to me,
       because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
       but the will of the one who sent me.
       And this is the will of the one who sent me,
       that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
        but that I should raise it on the last day.

John 5 has described the amazing and beautiful love of the Father and the Son. We hear more about their relationship when Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.”

Bread is there for the eating. Anyone who eats is nourished. It “obeys” the one who eats, nourishing that person’s body. Like the manna in the desert, Jesus is available to anyone who will believe in him, regardless of their worth, their abilities, talents, status, sins, or past.

Jesus will not let himself come between the Father and “what he gave me.” He is not stuck on himself, or his rights and privileges as the Son of God.

So should anyone just walk up and get one of those things? When asked we should answer: the Eucharist is shared by those who belong to the Catholic Church. Those who are not practicing Catholics should not take the sacrament. When there seems to be a misunderstanding, we should clarify. We want to be an avenue to God, and our policies and teachings about the Eucharist are also avenues to God. And we want to harm neither our guests nor our reverence.

The person who receives the Eucharist irreverently will receive little benefit from it. He should see the many ways we show reverence to the Eucharist: the sanctuary lamp, the locked and veiled tabernacle, our bowing and genuflecting, the emptiness we feel when we enter the church on Good Friday and see the empty tabernacle. He should read our prayers, attend Eucharistic Devotion, and learn our Eucharistic songs. He should hear stories of the martyrs who died defending the Eucharist.

Anyone who is willing to receive the Blessed Sacrament with that attitude must eventually join heart and soul to our fellowship, and will certainly be welcome.

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?

The Gospel of Saint John described not the miracles of Jesus but the signs. In our 21st century lingo, miracles are unexpected events that science cannot explain, which apparently come from God. Biblical authors would certainly be surprised by that definition since they never heard of our kind of science, and they believed that every good gift comes from God.

Signs are something else; and, once again, our 21st century scholars are clueless about signs. Saint John’s Gospel opens with “the book of signs,” the first eleven chapters, but these are never proofs of Jesus’ authority. They mean nothing to those who will not take Jesus at his word.

For us, however, they are literally sacraments. As I recall, the Baltimore Catechism definition of sacraments was “outward signs instituted by God to give grace.”

[The Baltimore Catechism had great questions. Unfortunately, it also assigned answers to these marvelous, mysterious questions. They might have reflected the truth more realistically if each answer had ended with ….]

The sign under discussion in John 6 is his feeding a large crowd with five barley loaves and two fish. The Eucharist is rooted in the story of God’s providing his chosen people with manna in the wilderness. As everyone ate daily for forty years and had their fill of bread, so do Christians enjoy the presence of Jesus daily and hourly and at every minute.

Clearly, this presentation reflects the practical experience of the first century Church. They are celebrating the Eucharist at least weekly, and finding astonishing nourishment in it. Food does that. You can eat periodically during the day and go on about your business between times. Christians can eat the Bread of Life once a week and feel deeply satisfied through the next six days, so long as they continue to reflect on its blessings. “O taste and see the goodness of the Lord!”

But many Catholic enjoy the blessing of daily Eucharist. When I look out over a weekday morning congregation, I feel so happy to be Catholic. Although the congregation is largely retired, senior citizens, I know they represent the longing of the entire church to attend this daily liturgy.

In today’s gospel the Jews asked Jesus, “Sir, give us this bread always.” They are asking, of course, that Jesus give his life for their salvation; that he take up his cross and walk to Calvary. That he is eager to do. For you and me, for no greater love has anyone than he lay down his life for his friends.

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

“This is the work of God, believe in the one he sent.”

This week’s teaching about the Eucharist begins with Jesus’ claim to our faith in him. Catholics often like to think we have a monopoly on the Eucharist. No other Christian denomination defines the Eucharist with the word transubstantiation, and that should somehow make us unique and even -- dare we say it? -- right.
Fortunately Saint John’s Gospel says nothing about that medieval definition. Rather, it insists we must believe in the one God sent. Transubstantiation is only one way of explaining the inexplicable.
James Weldon Johnson, in the prologue to his marvelous book of poems, God’s Trombones, Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, wrote:
There is the story of one [minister] who after reading a rather cryptic passage took off his spectacles, closed the Bible with a bang and by way of preface said, "Brothers and sisters, this morning -- I intend to explain the unexplainable -- find out the undefinable -- ponder over the imponderable -- and unscrew the inscrutable."

Rather than unscrew the sixth chapter of Saint John, we should welcome the challenge that Jesus issues to us, Believe in the one sent.

I ponder this moment in our Church history and wonder how will I believe in Jesus today. Almost fifty years ago Pope John XXIII called the bishops of the entire church to Rome and convened the Second Vatican Council. He knew the Church, despite the awesome respect it enjoyed in many places, needed reform. It was snarled in its doctrines and invested in its traditions. It needed fresh air. It needed especially to update its ceremonies. Although many people attended church, few of them prayed with the priest. They prayed behind him and in spite of him but not with him. The Mass had lost its congregation. Earlier reforms of the 20th century had begun the reforms. Children were making their first communion at the “age of reason;” the missal encouraged people to “follow” the Mass; the revived Gregorian Chant helped them participate in some of the prayers. But the congregation didn’t even respond to the priest’s greeting, Dominus vobiscum. They didn’t know what he meant by that.
Since then we have seen a marvelous change. People participate and enjoy the Mass. They sing the prayers, proclaim the Old and New Testament readings, distribute and receive the Blessed Sacrament and obey the command of Jesus to drink from the cup of his blood. We now pray the Mass together, rather than the priest alone. The RCIA is also reviving participation in the church as new members experience our mysteries not as dogmas but as events.
But history is marching on and we’re facing what may be the most challenging crisis since the Reformation began. What will we learn from the priest pedophilia scandal? Clearly the scandal is a complicated story. Bishops, priests, police and district attorneys have all been implicated in the scandal. Many people knew what was happening but did nothing. They believed they were protecting the faith even as they ignored terrible crimes.
Perhaps, rather than trusting in “the one he sent” to lead this parish or this diocese through a painful ordeal of guilt and shame to penance, healing and atonement, they suppressed their own consciences and abetted the crimes. But, inevitably, responsibility for the crimes moved upward from the parish to the diocese to the national synod to the entire Church. Today the Pope himself is under fire. 

As the preacher said, “When God needs me to help him, we will all be in very deep trouble.” Let us pray that we learn through this scandal to live by faith. 

Third Sunday of Easter

By his death Jesus glorified God.

In today’s gospel we heard Jesus tell Peter:
… when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. He said this signifying by what kind of death he (Peter) would glorify God.”
The passage refers not only to the manner of his execution – an ancient tradition says that Saint Peter was crucified – but to the grace he brought to that final moment.

Earlier in the Gospel of John we heard Jesus reflecting on his approaching death:
"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. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it and will glorify it again." The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. 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.

Occasionally we hear about someone who died a beautiful death. Under the most appalling of circumstances imaginable, Jesus died the most beautiful death in human history.  The gospels testify to his astonishing grace. Afterward, the centurion in the Gospel of Mark exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” In the Gospel of Saint Luke he declared, “Truly this was an innocent man!”

The question might be asked, “Will my death glorify God?” It will have to be a consummation of my entire life. It will not be a moment of uncharacteristic confidence in God. Rather, we will die as we have lived, and we will be judged as we lived.

A consumer society thinks, “It’s all about me.” Advertisers, pandering to our lower instincts, often tell us how much we “deserve a break today.” This self-indulgent, narcissisitc ideology runs so deeply that our weddings have spawned jokes about “bridezilla,” – a combination of bride and Godzilla. This unfortunate woman thinks the wedding is all about her. She actually believes her wedding should be perfect, and it will be the happiest day of her life. But if she marries in the Catholic Church someone should tell her the sacrament celebrates Jesus Christ first. 

A worse threat to our families and friends is that of Patient-zilla and Deathbed-zilla. Sick people need special care, there’s no question. But as we prepare for our own sick days and death days, are we practicing courage and patience, or self-indulgence?

Hospice care helps us to spend our last days in relative comfort. We go into the program knowing we’re dying and reassured that we will not suffer unnecessarily. As Christians and Catholics we hope we will not be especially afraid of death. With the saints, we hope to welcome our Sister Death as we welcomed Life with all of its trials, adventures, and rewards.

The dying patient may be the captain of the team as he works with doctors, nurses, other staff persons, and his family; but he must "play team" if he hopes to die gracefully. That means he is willing to receive comfort, both spiritual and physical. He is willing to say and ask for what he needs. Too often we expect our friends and family to figure out what we need. But we're not children anymore, and our parents can't read our minds as they once did, if they did. They are not "supposed to know." If you need something, ask for it. Finally the dying patient should practice gratitude for the support he receives. Dying is not easy on anyone; everyone appreciates appreciation. The captain of the team knows that. 

As we take up our crosses each day, dying to self, every day becomes a preparation for death. Our life and death are about God --  Ad Majorem Dei Gloriamfor the greater honor and glory of God.

Saturday of the Second Week of Easter

“It is I. Do not be afraid.”
The older I get the more I experience fear. I suppose it was always there but I didn’t recognize it. Or I felt up to the challenge. Or I didn’t realize how frail I am. I used to be fearless on ladders and scaffolding. So long as I had one strong hand holding something I was good. But I was hit by a truck while bicycling in 1993 and spent three weeks in a hospital bed and five months in therapy. I never hesitated to get back on the bike and hit the open road. But high places turn my legs to rubber. Go figure. Perhaps it's the experience of mortality that paralyzes me.
In any case I can understand the disciples fear when they saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. As John tells the story these fisherman had seen high wind and waves before. They were not afraid for that reason. If they made no progress in the storm that was frustrating but nothing unusual. But a man walking on the stormy water, appearing out of the gloom of night – that’s eerie and they were spooked. Who wouldn’t be?
And then he called them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” With that assurance, their nerves were calmed.
It’s fascinating that they wanted to take him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading. Jesus would not be taken any where. The Lord of the storm and the Lord of history belongs to no church, creed, theology or ideology. If he does such wonderful things that doesn’t mean we can bottle and sell him. Fidelity to Jesus means not knowing where he comes from or where he goes; it is following his spirit where it leads us and letting him rescue us in his own good time. It is setting aside our fear when he speaks to us.  
In the context of John 6, following the miracle of the loaves and preceding the discourse on the Bread of Life, perhaps we should expect to hear something next week which will rattle our nerves. On Monday the narrative continues. 

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.
As John sets up the story of Jesus’ feeding a large crowd in the wilderness, he underlines two details:
  • The Jewish feast of Passover was near.”
  • Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
Just as we tell Christmas stories at Christmas time, the story of Jesus’ feeding the crowd is a Passover story. It relates to the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt, their sojourn in the desert, the Sinai Covenant with its ten commandments, their eating manna and drinking water from the rock, and their triumphal entry into the Promised Land.
This story of luxuriously thick grass and astonishing amounts of food recalls God’s promise of a second honeymoon with his people, a return to the wilderness which was sometimes a lush desert, as Hosea described it:
So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.
From there I will give her the vineyards she had, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope. She shall respond there as in the days of her youth, when she came up from the land of Egypt.
On that day, says the Lord, She shall call me "My husband," and never again "My baal."
Then will I remove from her mouth the names of the Baals, so that they shall no longer be invoked.
I will make a covenant for them on that day, with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with the things that crawl on the ground.
Bow and sword and war I will destroy from the land, and I will let them take their rest in security.
I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy;
I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord.
On that day I will respond, says the Lord; I will respond to the heavens, and they shall respond to the earth;
The earth shall respond to the grain, and wine, and oil, and these shall respond to Jezreel.
I will sow him for myself in the land, and I will have pity on Lo-ruhama. I will say to Lo-ammi, "You are my people," and he shall say, "My God!" (Hosea 2:16-25)

The rich grass recalls the promise of security, prosperity and ease where the Lord will enjoy a honeymoon with his people. There we will forget all about the idols we have pursued with such frustration and heartache. There God will whisper, "My Beloved" and we will answer, "My Lord and My God!"

Which, of course, lead us into the Mass, as we will learn next week, when the sixth chapter of John breaks open this paschal story. 

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

I have been reading Karen Armstrong’s recent book, The Case for God, and pondering her history of religion. It is a dense and complicated story, especially as we struggle to define the relationship of science and religion, philosophy and theology, the natural and supernatural sciences. In the past – a long time ago -- the Church enjoyed the genius of a Saint Augustine or Saint Thomas Aquinas to explain it all to us.  One bishop suggested that another great scholar may be among us today, but still in diapers! In the meanwhile, we reflect, discuss, pray and prepare the soil for his or her contribution.

In today’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint John, Jesus says of the natural and supernatural:
The one who comes from above is above all.
The one who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things.
But the one who comes from heaven is above all.
He testifies to what he has seen and heard,
but no one accepts his testimony.
As I understand this passage, Jesus comes from the Truth; he is an apostle from God to our reality. No one owns the truth; not scientists, technicians, pollsters, or politicians. And religion should speak of it more often with silence than words. As Saint Francis never said but should have said, “Preach always and, when necessary, use words.”
Jesus speaks in words but we do not understand what he is saying because we cling to our narrow definitions. Jesus’ truth may be as obtuse as the mystery of incarnation or transubstantiation. But it is more often the truth about our daily life. He may say, “This cancer is fatal,” but I will not hear it. Or he might say, “This relationship is forbidden.” and I will not be willing to cut it off. The truth might whisper to my heart, “You can hope and wish and prefer but you cannot control.” and yet I will struggle for mastery of people and situations.

My concerns are mired in “earth,” not the sweet Mother Earth who receives all blessings from God, but the sinful, concupiscent earth of my desires.
Inspired by our faith and thirsty for Truth. we gaze upon Christ Crucified. In this third chapter of Saint John, we have heard, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up…” The mystics insist that all blessings flow from that sacred tree:
Gaze upon him, consider him, contemplate him, as you desire to imitate him. If you suffer with him, you shall rejoice with him; if you die with him on the cross of tribulation, you shall possess heavenly mansions in the splendor of the saints, and in the Book of Life your name shall be called glorious.Saint Clare of Assisi
I will certainly be interested to hear what today’s diapered child will tell us forty years from now, in a new synthesis of faith and science, but in the meanwhile I will contemplate Jesus and the curative powers he has given to us with the medical arts.

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

H.L. Mencken once described Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy.” As I ponder John 3:16 I find it hard to chip away that hard overlay of American religion. We’ve heard this verse and seen those numbers displayed ominously on billboards and front yard signs and, most notably, at televised NFL games. Whoever showed that sign, I suppose, was afraid that someone somewhere in that enormous crowd might be enjoying the football game without considering his immortal soul.
The great scripture scholar, Father Raymond Brown conjectured that the Gospel according to Saint John was written in a Christian community that was locked in mortal combat with a larger Jewish synagogue. Many of the Jews, including some of their best and brightest, had joined the new “way,” becoming disciples of Jesus. But the synagogue still had powerful economic and social resources to make life difficult for the budding church.
More than a few times in my life I’ve been involved in heated, prolonged discussions about religion. It can be very exciting, especially as the mind races to create new and better arguments against one’s opponents. The controversy seems to pull all kinds of thoughts, images, memories and inspirations together, creating new, wonderful configurations. Saint John’s Gospel is like that. It is a work of incredible genius, probing more and more deeply the mystery of Jesus.
Of course, there is a price to pay for the intoxication of new ideas and deeper insights. One fears people who disagree and suspects people who might disagree. It is so easy to demonize opponents in an argument, as John’s gospel demonizes “the Jews.” When these arguments go on for years at a time, affecting the formation of children and the care of the elderly, they can become vicious.

But if we excise some of the worse tendencies of our fallen human nature we can return to John 3: 14 for a fresh look:
God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.

This may be the briefest summary of the gospel, and the clearest expression of Jesus’ mission. Jesus’ entire life, not just his death, is a gift to us. Graces flow from his conception, birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, his maturity and his premature death. God has given us Jesus to bless every moment of our earthly life.

My Franciscan tradition favors this verse, hearing in it a teaching about Christmas. We understand that Jesus finished the work of our creation, formation and redemption by being a human being. As an earthling he would live with the same danger, weakness, and vulnerability of every human being. He relied on God’s providential care every day of his life. God provided for his birth in Bethlehem as the child of the Virgin Mary. God provided for his escape to Egypt and return to Nazareth. The Holy Spirit impelled him to the Jordan River for baptism and into the desert to be tempted. 
Jesus never regretted any moment of his earthly existence. He was glad to be a human being. "He was not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters." He never hesitated to remain among us, despite the perks and privileges that should have gone with his divine nature.
Like any human being, Jesus would die. In obedience to the specific vocation God had given him – the same obedience that every earthling owes to God – Jesus died on the cross. By this incredible display of innocence, Jesus showed us how to be fully human. His final, triumphant cry – “It is finished” – signifies not only the work of our salvation but the satisfaction of his total humanity.

When he is lifted up he draws us to himself. We can no more resist his love than an iron can resist a magnet. He is beautiful, fascinating and delightful. No tower would be high enough to show us Jesus; no throne would be grand enough; no light, bright enough. But his cross is the perfect tower, throne and spectacle to show us who he is. If our minds cannot comprehend him, our hearts welcome him. 

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

“You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen,

The Christian religion is rooted in Jewish history and faith; without those roots we lose our association with Jesus. His message and his meaning would be lost on us. Tragically this has often happened in our history. As incomprehensible as it sounds, many Christians have despised Jews. They see the passion narratives as a proof of Jewish “perfidy” and do not recognize the perfect sign of love in Jesus’ crucifixion. We might pity such Christians, but we must avoid their error. It is fatal to the gospel seed in our hearts.

The Gospel of John and especially this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus represent the stunned incomprehension that existed between the two communities in that difficult first century. Jesus challenged the well-intentioned but uncomprehending Nicodemus, “You do not understand this?” As John tells the story, Nicodemus would later make an enormous contribution to Jesus’ burial (one hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes!); but he does not say that Nicodemus became his disciple. He may have remained with his Jewish community and kept his position in the sorely-troubled Sanhedrin. Perhaps that is where God placed him and that’s where he belonged. The story of Nicodemus in John’s gospel may represent the Christian gratitude to devout, faithful Jews. 

The Christian community, through the liturgical experiences of Baptism and Eucharist, was persuaded that Jesus was the Jewish messiah. There was a tremendous intellectual fervor among converted Jews, especially among the scholars, as they methodically studied the Hebrew Scriptures and found passages that seemed to be fulfilled by Jesus. Though their interpretations were novel, they were nonetheless traditional by Jewish standards. Today, some of us might scratch our heads and wonder how they managed these imaginative leaps of faith, but it all made sense to them.

But to many Jews it made no sense at all. It was too new, too strange, and too demanding. They might have followed the logic but they had not received the Spirit of Jesus. Very likely, during those days of passionate and painful controversy, neither community could imagine that God intended for them to remain separate for twenty centuries and, perhaps, until the end of time. If there is only one God, shouldn’t there be only one faith in that God? If Jesus is the savior of the world, shouldn’t the entire world believe in him? Five centuries later a third religion would be born from the Jewish and Christian communities of Arabia. Muslims would believe their mission was to resolve the differences between the Jews and Christians and introduce the whole world to the worship of Allah.

I certainly would not claim to know the mind of God in this matter, nor would I dare to predict the future and how these three traditions might be melded into one. But I believe every person should follow his own vocation. In most cases, God invites people to stay where they are, and to practice the faith of their ancestors. In some cases, he will lead them into other congregations. In every case the decision will be reassuring, peaceful and blessed with God’s gentle spirit.

Periodically the news breaks into our prayer consciousness and must be addressed. Recently Pope Benedict XVI has also been implicated in the “cover-up” regarding priest pedophilia. We in the United States have not quite passed through the trial of fire which began in the mid-1980’s. The Scandal has touched virtually every diocese and every religious community of men in our country. Though some Europeans seemed to think this was only an American problem, others knew the day of reckoning would arrive in every country in the world. Protestant, Jewish and other faiths have also suffered or will suffer their own humiliation.
Especially since the “Dallas Charter” of 2002, the province of Our Lady of Consolation has taken very deliberate and stringent measures to protect children, vulnerable adults, and all those entrusted to our care – which is virtually anyone in contact with a member of our province. We are following the new guidelines, observing both the letter and the spirit of the laws.

In the meanwhile we must pray for our Church. We should pray that God will give us – clergy, religious, and laity – a rebirth of wonder in the Gift of Purity. As I said, in my first blogged homily about the Sacrament of Marriage, I believe that virginity is a gift from God. Through persistent prayer, our sexuality can be healed of the damage it suffers from sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, masturbation, pornography and other assaults.
However low its morals, our world expects the Church and its leaders to be a city shining on a hill. Now, more than ever, we must rise to this crisis and welcome it as a blessed though terrifying opportunity.