Pentecost Sunday, Mass during the Day

Lectionary: 63

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

Of the three major feasts – Christmas and Easter being the other two – Pentecost may be the hardest to get our arms around. It might even be the most forgettable – it doesn’t get the attention of Christmas, Easter and Ash Wednesday – although the other celebrations would mean nothing without it.

Pentecost is to the church year as the Holy Spirit is to the Church as breath is to the body. A body without breath is dead.  

tendrils of last year's vines
Periodically Veterans arrive at the hospital with an ominous diagnosis, “failure to thrive.” Often, they have been here before. They left this or another hospital with reason to hope their recovery would continue. But they returned to their silent worlds and their tiny rooms where they cared for no one and no one cared for them. A dog and a television couldn’t do it for them. Sometimes the VA can find a foster care home where the gentlemen thrive. Surrendering the illusion of heroic solitude, they rejoin the human race, start caring about others, and enjoy life again.

The Holy Spirit fills our lives with the cycles of giving and receiving, which are like breathing. We inhale and exhale. One who only receives is dying, as is the one who only gives. Ordinary life is filled with giving and receiving. Much of it is like breathing, unconscious. We just naturally help each other and receive help from one another. No can remember how many times she has said, “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome.”

With Pentecost the Church celebrate our opportunity to give back to the Lord. We have seen his birth, watched his death and been amazed by his resurrection. We believe he has done these things for us, to gather us to himself as a shepherd gathers his sheep. Until this moment, however, we could not respond. We lacked the vitality, the breath to say Amen.

Pentecost fills our lungs with breath, our minds with words and our mouths with songs. Pentecost gathers choirs and congregations to breathe in unison as they worship.

Pentecost makes such a noise that people in the street wonder what’s going on there in the Upper Room. They want to be a part of it too. They join the crowd in droves, despite their speaking hundreds of different languages. Within a short time they are singing Hebrew words, Alleluia Amen. Joined in the Body with Christ as our head, we cry out, “This is the Day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it.”

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Lectionary: 302

This is the reason, then, I have requested to see you and to speak with you, for it is on account of the hope of Israel that I wear these chains.” 

With the end of the Easter Season we come to the end of the Acts of the Apostles. Saint Paul has arrived in Rome, the center of the empire. He is completing the mission Jesus gave to his disciples, to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. When he arrived there, and even as Saint Luke finished the book, neither could imagine Rome might become the spiritual center of the Roman Catholic Church. They could not foresee the Vatican or the innumerable churches, basilicas, chapels and shrines that would fill the city with holy sites. 

They probably had a presentiment of the persecutions Christians would suffer before the city would become theirs. There was no reason to suppose they would fare any better than Jesus had. 

But trouble, ostracism, imprisonment and persecutions were not that important. Their mission was to announce the Gospel. House arrest may have felt inconvenient to the itinerant Paul at times but he used it to make himself more available to his allies and opponents. Anyone who wanted to quarrel with him about the hope of Israel or the mission of the messiah knew where to find him. 

It was appropriate that the Gospel should arrive in Rome in the person of a prisoner. Who else could represent the Crucified? 

Our Pope Francis has not forgotten the humility of Saint Paul as he began his ministry in Rome. He found a room more accessible than that of his predecessors. In the spirit of Pope Saint John XXIII, he wants to open the windows of the Church to allow free access to the Holy Spirit. 

A few days ago, after initial introductions, an octogenarian Veteran looked hard at me and said, "What is happening to our Church?" 
"We're entering a new millennium!" I said.

We have outlasted two millennia so far. The Gospel is still beautiful, clear, glorious and perfect. The cross of Jesus remains as holy, revered and powerful as ever. If some people cannot imagine how the Church will remain true to its mission and calling during these times of change, that's why we get old and die. Most of us outlive our imagination. If I knew the future at one time -- or thought I did -- I don't anymore.  

Opponents declare the world has no further need of the Gospel, God or the Church. But the Holy Spirit continues to raise up from these very stones congregations who welcome the Good News. 

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Lectionary: 301

Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

The Gospel of Saint John ends with an appendix about Saint Peter. It seems the disciples have lost their way. Together are seven disciples of Jesus, all the usual suspects: "Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples." 
We're not told why they are together; it seems they have nothing better to do than go fishing. 

That was Peter's idea. "I am going fishing." he says. 
And they say, "We'll come with you."  

When the Lord appears on shore and directs their efforts, "the disciple whom Jesus loved" recognizes him. (Typically, he was hidden among the "two others of his disciples.") 

It is significant that the nominal head of the group doesn't instantly recognize the Lord. That duty fell to the one whom Jesus loved. He was the same who "saw and believed" when they found the empty tomb. 

Peter is not jealous of his headship. He readily hears and accepts another man's prophetic announcement; and then eagerly leads the party back to shore. It is often too much to expect of institutional leadership -- in church, government or business -- to know where we must go. Their duty is to listen to the Spirit from whichever direction the Voice calls, and make the critical decision to follow. God may speak to the Church through a child or an old person; from male or female; from members, friends or enemies. The sound may even drift up through the bureaucratic layers of the organization. Leadership listens with the whole Church, not for the whole Church. They carry the heavy burden of decision after discerning the Voice. 

As the story continues, Jesus leads Peter aside and asks the critical question, "Peter, do you love me?"
 “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Already, in his reply, we can hear Peter's anxiety. He is well aware of his failings. As Jesus repeats the question Peter is reduced to tears. The smell of the charcoal fire and the questioning evoke that dreadful night when Peter swore he had never even heard of Jesus and had no idea what they were talking about. 

I hope I am not the only one who often repeats these words of Saint Peter, "Lord, you know I love you!" 
LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand,you understand my thoughts from afar....
Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my thoughts. See if there is a wicked path in me; lead me along an ancient path.       (Psalm 139)

Knowing the Lord is knowing one's own sin. It is beautiful in a probing, poignant way. Before the Lord I cannot pretend to be someone else, or to have qualities I don't have. Assuming a position of leadership within the Church -- as priest, parent, catechist or whatever -- one can only say, "Here I am Lord, I come to do your will." 

Memorial of Saint Boniface, Bishop and Martyr

Lectionary: 300

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage.
For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem,
so you must also bear witness in Rome.”

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles might sound too familiar during our silly season in the United States. The Sadducees and Pharisees have managed to cobble together an uneasy alliance. These parties devoutly despise each other but agree that Saint Paul and his Christian movement are troublesome and should be suppressed.

When Paul shouts “I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.” he pulls at the first available string that will unravel the coalition. There were probably a dozen other issues he might have used. We could as easily imagine a confederacy of Catholics and the Tea Party thrown into disarray by a discussion about capital punishment, civil rights or birth control.

As the story continues we realize it was the Holy Spirit which inspired this mischief in Saint Paul. He is destined to sail to Rome, bringing the good news of the gospel “to the ends of the earth.” (Since all roads lead to Rome, the ends of the earth meet there.)

Saint Paul embodies that Spirit of which Saint John wrote:

The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit
How could a man who traveled the highways and waterways of the Roman Empire so freely spend weeks and months in jail cells
, the brig of ships, and house arrest? Wasn’t he impatient to get out and get moving?

In fact, governed by the Spirit, he had God’s patience and God’s impatience. He knew when to move and when to stay. Even when an earthquake struck the jail, as we heard last week, and the fetters fell off his arms, he did not rush out of confinement. The Spirit of God kept him in place until his jailer rushed into that that stygian darkness with torches to lead him out. Evidently the earthquake was for the jailer’s benefit as well as his.

Will the US with its parties, lobbies, special interest groups, PACs, ethnic and religious groups, entrenched bureaucrats, one percenters and criminals rediscover its direction in our confusing world? Will the Catholic Church, described as “a people adrift,” straighten up and fly right?

Now, more than ever, we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us day by day. Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on through the night.

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Lectionary: 299

I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One. They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth.

I begin each day at the Veterans Affairs hospital, before my “tour of duty” begins, with a half-hour of prayer in the chapel. During this time I read the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer. I would not want to approach the Veterans or staff without this re-consecration of myself and my time.

I enjoy a great deal of respect among the Veterans and staff but I cannot assume it’s because they like me so much. Most hardly know me. They see the Roman collar and they know whom I represent. Despite all the rumors of a secularized world, people appreciate a “man of the cloth” and are glad of his presence.

During his Last Supper prayer, the Lord would not “ask that you take them out of the world.” That would defeat the whole purpose of our being here. Rather, he prayed first, that the Evil One be kept far from us; and then for our consecration in truth.

Most of the people who greet me in the hospital cannot imagine how blessed my life is. I live in a Franciscan community that engages in prayer three times a day. I watch little television, only the early evening news. For recreation I play three rounds of cribbage with 96-year-old Father Maurus. (Both of us hope the other will win.) Once in a while I go outdoors to take pictures of flowers, bugs and trees. I have also spent a lot of time in the past four years with this homily-blog. I visit my family in Louisville for major holidays and birthdays. 

Although I grumble about the antics of this or that friar, one of my companions, I know where the problem lies. It’s not with him. I did not enter the Franciscan community to show them how to be Franciscans; I need them to show me. I also wanted to fall under the blessing of Jesus’ Last Supper prayer – for protection from the Evil One.

There’s a lot to be said for a simple way of life. The Franciscan life is quiet, uncluttered, unpretentious and focused. It’s consecrated in truth. It probably makes a difference in the broader landscape of our culture and nation; but, to suit me, it does not have to. I don’t suppose the world will be a better place for my having been here.

If these united states retain our union for another century, the Christian Churches will play no small part in that success. Our consecration in truth and our keen awareness of both the Evil One and God’s mercy will make all the difference. That blessing began in Jesus; it remains with us because of our daily prayer.

Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs

Lectionary: 298

 I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world.
They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

We are approaching the end of the Easter Season. Next Sunday we will celebrate Pentecost. Our readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John recount the farewell discourses of Saint Paul and the Lord Jesus. Jesus begins his final prayer before his crucifixion with, “Father, the hour has come.”

I have been writing this “homily blog” for over four years and, I think, the time has come to say farewell. I have heard it said that the best preacher has only two or three sermons at any given time. He repeats himself often. I don’t know how often I have repeated myself in 1606 posts but I think I have said everything I need to say. It’s time to take a break. I will write my last post in this homily blog on Pentecost Sunday. I am reassured in this decision by the many good opportunities you have as a reader to find other and similar blogs.

I am not retiring from the chaplaincy at the VA and I expect to remain at Mount Saint Francis for the time being. Nothing in a Franciscan’s life is forever.
Leaving Ephesus Saint Paul said, “And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.”

His ministry was proclamation of God’s plan. That is never the work of one person. God has endless resources and innumerable ways to remind us of his gracious presence in our lives.
As I have written this blog I have never forgotten the primary way of knowing the Lord is in the flesh and blood community of disciples. There is no substitute for going to church. Preaching happens in the church, not on television, radio or the internet. And I have my doubts about the amplifier. The word of God comes to us in the voice of a human being. Not even the Bible can replace the immediate presence of a real person and a real community with sweat and blood and smell.

Saint Paul labored strenuously in Ephesus to build a solid community with well-trained, carefully selected leaders who would carry on the work he began. There was grief when he left, naturally, but confidence that the Church would thrive without him. The Holy Spirit cannot fail. As the psalmist says today:

A bountiful rain you showered down, O God, upon your inheritance;
you restored the land when it languished;
Your flock settled in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”
They answered him “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

Now there’s a scary thought! Some Christians have “never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Perhaps, given the illusive nature of this undefinable doctrine, they can be forgiven for not knowing the Third Person of the Trinity.

Saint Luke is particularly troubled that some baptized persons do not know the Holy Spirit. It is a constant presence in his duology, the Gospel and Acts of the Apostles.

Who would Jesus be to us without his Holy Spirit? He might be an interesting historical figure, a contemporary of Caesar Augustus, Suetonius and Virgil. Scholars of Jewish history might recall his name from their reading of Josephus. They might even – and this is a stretch – compare his opinions with those of Gamaliel and his famous disciple, Saul of Tarsus.

To most people Jesus of Nazareth without the Holy Spirit would be a nonentity, one man among many wasted in the long tragedy of human history. His death on a cross between two other criminals, were it to appear in a dusty, ancient manuscript, would record the death of three criminals. At best, his resurrection would be an old joke, like the appearances of Elvis Presley and the Czarina Anastasia.

The Holy Spirit is the life of the Church; it is the breath of Jesus that still animates his Body. We know the Lord only because his Spirit moves in us.

A flood of words cannot describe the works of the Holy Spirit. We can speak of healings physical, mental, spiritual, social, familial, cultural and financial. We can speak of wisdom acquired by scholarship, schooling and hard experience. We might speak of institutions, their founding and maintenance; and of revolutions, their origins and persistence. Nor can we neglect the creatio ex nihilo from the stellar Big Bang to the latest, microscopic MRSA. The Holy Spirit creates beauty and gives us the senses to apprehend beauty. It reveals horror and gives us the sense of revulsion. Have I cited the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church yet? There is no end to this reflection.

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

Come Holy Ghost, Creator Blest, and in our hearts take up thy rest. Come with thy grace and heavenly aid, to fill the hearts which thou hast made; to fill the hearts which thou hast made. 

The Ascension of the Lord

Lectionary 58

All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
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,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

In Evangelical Protestant circles much is made of this "Great Commandment: "Go and make disciples of all nations."

In her book, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, Eliza Griswold describes a war zone between Christianity and Islam along the tenth parallel north of the Equator in North Africa. Islam has governed north Africa for many centuries from Egypt to Morocco; in recent centuries Christian missionaries have converted huge tracts of land in sub-Saharan Africa.

The result is a "fault line" between the two religions. Both religions have active, well-financed missionaries striving to win and retain converts to their religion. Tensions build between these groups, especially as converts choose, unchoose and choose again. Much depends upon who offers the better secondary benefits. In some cases armed conflicts occur.

Despite the triumphal sounds of latter day secularism, religion is alive and well and dangerous in many parts of the world. Lifting high the cross, Christian soldiers continue to march onward into war. Catholic laity, clergy and missionaries, of course, are also found in contested regions.

The bishops gathered during the Second Vatican Council issued the document, Dignitatis Humanae. They began this important decree cautiously:
A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man (sic), and the demand is increasingly made that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by a sense of duty.

When Saint Peter responded to Jesus' question, "Who do you say I am?" with "You are the Christ, the son of the living God!" Jesus remarked, "The Father has shown you this!" He did not say, "Now you've got it!" as if he had finally won over an uncomprehending student.

Dignitatis Humanae echoed that sentiment, "First, the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. "
While we believe "this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church," we are not sent to transform all nations into North American or European Catholics. Rather, we must announce the Good News and allow the Holy Spirit time and space to bring people wholly to Christ. They need not conform to our ways of thinking or feeling, they need not agree with our world view. Our enemies are not their enemies.

After his conversation with the Muslim sultan and his adventures in Egypt and Jerusalem, Saint Francis wrote about our missionary effort, "Whoever should, by divine inspiration, wish to go among the Saracens and other infidels must ask permission from their provincial ministers." Their mission was quite simply to be among the non-Christians. He expected the Franciscans' presence, sincerity, simplicity and holiness might arouse enough curiosity that their neighbors would ask "the reason for your hope."

Evangelization addresses the entire human being. That includes everything from the unconscious depths of repressed memories and forgotten resentments to one's attitudes and life style. It includes the individual's relationships with family, neighbors, employers, employees, friends and enemies. It is cultural as well as personal. No one is fully converted; we are all on the journey as a pilgrim people of God. 

By now we should have seen enough sin in our own Church, as well as that of all other Christian churches, to know that we are still in darkness and have yet to see the light. We dare not coerce people into our ways of thinking, feeling or acting. Jesus has a stern warning about that: 
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Hell twice as much as yourselves.
Yet we are sent to share our dawning knowledge of God's goodness with others. If they do no more than glance toward the east to see the rising Son of God we can be satisfied we have done our part. The rest is up to God. 

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;
do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;
do not be wise in your own estimation.

As a hospital chaplain I can bring a particular slant to this story. I will suppose, unlike most male commentators who have pondered this story throughout the centuries, that Elizabeth had a good support system of friends and family. The women of Jerusalem knew what to do for her and were ready to do it. Sweeping, dusting, cleaning, cooking, laundry: all these matters and more could be tended.

What Elizabeth could not have was the presence a Christian might bring. Mary was a sacred presence, filled with the Holy Spirit and alive with God’s action. Elizabeth especially needed her because, like the young virgin, she was pregnant by divine intervention. 

Society often tells people what emotions they should have and which emotions they should encourage. A young married woman, for example, should be happy she is pregnant. Everybody says so! An elderly woman, who has been regarded as barren, now suddenly pregnant, might be overjoyed. And her friends with her. Or not. She might be frightened, or confused, or blissfully, willfully ignorant of what is happening. How would her friends and neighbors deal with any of those situations?

I imagine Mary sitting with and listening to Elizabeth for long periods of time. She would have seen that the women of Jerusalem provided everything except a listening ear. Busy as they were with their families in the bustling city, unaccustomed to the situation of an old woman’s pregnancy, opinionated about the child's name, they left a vacuum for the Galilean girl to fill.

The two could share their astonishing secret – they were pregnant according to God’s plan. Given its extraordinary nature they must have continually resorted to prayer. They must have wondered, “Can this really be happening?” and assured each other it was so. They must have recounted the Angels visits to Zechariah and Mary repeatedly.

Mary rejoiced when Elizabeth rejoiced, and Elizabeth wept when Mary wept. They had the same regard for one another. Neither was “haughty” toward the other; and neither was wise in her own estimation. Both were humble and lowly, and grateful for the other's companionship. 

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 295

I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.
On that day you will not question me about anything.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”

I heard the great scripture scholar, Father Raymond Brown, joke that, when he enters heaven, he will ask Saint John, “Why 153 fish?” I suppose we all have questions stored away for that great occasion when we enter eternity; many of them will be far weightier than Father Brown’s. Why do the innocent suffer? Why are evildoers not punished? Why weren’t my prayers answered? Where were you when I needed you?

Creating questions is part of our human nature. It is insatiable and demanding; it is godlike and holy. We want to know; our minds are created to ask questions and to seek answers. Even when the questions seem to lead nowhere they demand satisfaction.

Some philosophers compare our curiosity to the sexual drive; they are essentially the same. When the Virgin Mary asks the Angel Gabriel, “How can this be, since I do not know man?” her curiosity is linked to her sexuality. 

Our curiosity is another facet of our erotic nature. We want to know;  there is no end of our seeking. Created in God’s image we cannot be satisfied until we know good, evil and eternal life.

“What do you want?” Jesus asks of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar. “What are you looking for?” he asks the disciples of John the Baptist. Clearly, the Savior honors our questions. He will not leave us dissatisfied. “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”
I think of the old song Give me Jesus. (#681, Breaking Bread 2014)

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Give me Jesus.

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”

Describing himself as both the true gate and the good shepherd, Jesus says, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Because we hold the cross of Jesus always before us, we know that full, abundant life is not always pleasant. We also must weep and mourn. Kahlil Gibran, in his book of poetry, The Prophet, wrote of joy and sorrow:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

I read this book as a high school student at Mount Saint Francis almost fifty years ago. Gibran’s teaching on joy and sorrow has especially shaped my understanding of life.

Naturally we prefer joy but those who shun sorrow and grief have to avoid all human contact with its pleasures and privileges. Life in its fullness knows every human emotion. Searching for ways to express abundant life, we turn to poetry and song, dance, music and the visual arts. We sing the blues to make us happy; we turn to comedy to make us think. Perhaps that’s why people love horror films; they make them feel more secure.

Christians use all these natural ways of expression. To have life more abundantly we also contemplate our sins and our concupiscence. The more I realize the idiocy, meanness and futility of my sins the more I appreciate God’s mercy. I might suppose God loves me when no one seems to be angry at me and I can't recall anything I've done that was TERRIBLY wrong; but when I ponder how my thoughts, words and deeds render me unworthy of mercy, I see the height and depth and breadth of God’s love.

As Saint Paul said, “...God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

In the Crucifixion we find the deepest sorrow we can ever know. We have killed our God, and forfeited by that all hope and every right to deliverance. We have no claim on God’s mercy; we should only suffer his justice. 

We plunge through that narrow gate of grief and remorse into a bottomless pool of sorrow.  The saints have shown us how to dig a well of remorse, that it might be filled with the knowledge of love. 

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.

Like the Lord Jesus, the Spirit of Truth does not speak on his own but in obedience to God the Father. In the Trinity of God there is a marvelous obedience. The Father empties himself totally, expressing and giving himself in unhesitant love to Jesus and the Spirit, who receive the Gift with perfect freedom and gratitude. They in turn agree with the Father in everything. Though there are three “persons” in one God, there is only one will; and all freely obey that one.

This beautiful God – who can be defined by neither three nor one – places himself totally in our hands as the Crucified One who guides us to all truth. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

On Sunday, June 8 we will celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost. It is the third high holy day of the year and in some ways, the most mysterious. In that feast we see all the holiness, purity and goodness of God placed in our unworthy hands. Fortunately, the Virgin Mother Mary is among us. Her presence alone makes us worthy.

As we grow in the Spirit we learn to pay attention to the impulses that come to us from God. I might never know that a kindly gesture or friendly nod struck a stranger as an amazing gift. Perhaps she was lifted out of despondency in that moment and I never even knew it. Nor need I know it since it was the work of God and not mine.

Or the Spirit which is Wisdom might place in my hands an article or book that I should read at this very time. As they say, “When the disciple is ready, the teacher will appear.” In that way God declares to me “the things that are coming.”

In the Spirit we learn to distrust our own willfulness. My vision is far too narrow, too blinkered and blind. It sees only polarized light in shades of grey. Willingness consecrates each new day to the Spirit. Every morning willingness rises to a breakfast of opportunities.

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

The crowd in Philippi joined in the attack on Paul and Silas,
and the magistrates had them stripped
and ordered them to be beaten with rods.
After inflicting many blows on them,
they threw them into prison
and instructed the jailer to guard them securely.
When he received these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell
and secured their feet to a stake.

About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying
and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened…

The story of the apostles’ singing in their prison cell after a day of humiliations and beatings might be totally implausible if we did not know people do this sort of thing often.

During World War II Christians, Catholics and Jews managed to worship God in the prison camps. Corrie Ten Boom, in The Hiding Place, spoke of the freedom she and other women prisoners enjoyed in their flea infested barracks. The vermin drove the guards out, leaving the prisoners to study scripture, pray and encourage one another. Saint Maximillian Kolbe administered the Sacrament of Penance to his fellow prisoners as they were starved to death. He also led them in singing, prayers and litanies. Several of the Ugandan Martyrs, when they realized their buddies had been marched out of town toward the place of execution, hurried to catch up. Stories like these demonstrate the work of the Holy Spirit.

No one can say how they might react if they were ostracized, harassed or arrested for being Christian. Most of us have embarrassing memories of losing our tempers, abusive language and insane behavior under less challenging circumstances. We don’t suppose we might pass that test very easily.

But we also pray with the saints and martyrs that God will give us a measure of their spirit. We make sacrifices for others, we put up with a certain amount of disappointment and frustration. We might be surprised by the gentleness that comes over us when the Holy Spirit moves us.

Saint Paul and his crew were used to hardship. They traveled on foot from town to town with few provisions. He was sometimes hungry, sometimes cold and miserable, and sometimes desperately ill. He suffered shipwrecks and other misfortunes. The more he suffered the more he experienced God’s protection and direction.

We might not face persecution for being Christian, but we can and should pray for those who do. We should beg God to give us his Spirit so that our entire Church – both that which is secure and that which is oppressed – may be alive with the Fire of God. When we sing we sing with and for those who are imprisoned; when we receive the Eucharist we receive it for those whose churches are closed, whose priests have been sent out of the country. We might be surprised when our jailers and fellow prisoners join us in song.

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, Priest

Lectionary: 291

I have told you this so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you.”

Where the synoptic gospels cite Old Testament passages about the coming messiah, the Gospel of John refers back to Jesus’ own prophecies. He needs no greater authority than himself and we should not either. He warns us there will be persecutions. When they begin we should remember his warnings and understand with all the more assurance, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

Surely those who are tortured or hear the approach of their executioners know abandonment at its worse. Etty Hillesum, as she waited for extradition in a Nazi collection camp, knew the British and Americans were not coming to save the interned Jews. She heard her neighbors and friends reassure one another with the promise of deliverance "when the British and Americans arrive."  She was called inward to rely on a more mysterious promise.

Jesus knew futility as he waited on the cross; but, in the Gospel of John we do not hear his last, despairing cry, “Why have you abandoned me?” In the fourth gospel he retains the office of high priest, offering himself to God and surrendering his life when he chooses to do so – that is, when the hour had come to give his Beloved Disciple and his Mother to one another. 

As we ponder and pray through the Gospel of John during the Easter Season we should contemplate the absolute authority of Jesus. If we suffer hardship we cannot be surprised because he told us beforehand this would happen.

When someone tells me, “You’re going to turn left on such and such a road, and then you’re going to drive ten country miles….” I know I’m going to feel like I must have missed my turn. A country mile of narrow lanes, sharp turns, and unpaved dirt feels like twenty Interstate miles. I will often wonder "How much farther is it?", and "Do I have enough fuel to get there?" Remembering my friend’s assurance I persist on that long route to my destination.

Jesus has walked this way ahead of us; he walks it again with us. “Remember what I told you… do not be afraid.”

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Lectionary: 55

I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.

A recent, very successful series of religious books was called Left Behind. The authors merged an outlandish interpretation of apocalyptic themes in the New Testament with modern angst. Presumably these Christians were serious when they proposed that God would abandon the vast majority of world's population to their own barbaric devices, without hope for salvation or the guidance of the Holy Spirit . 

The Death of God phenomenon, first described by the philosopher Nietzsche, has left billions of people feeling abandoned and homeless on their home planet. The story of God's disappearance began with the development of the scientific method and the belief that everything in this universe could be explained by science. At first inexplicable and uncontrollable things beyond the purview of science were supposed to be God's province; things like the weather and seismic activity and tsunamis. But eventually, they suppose, there is nothing that cannot be predicted "if we have a computer that's big enough and powerful enough." Even human behavior is predictable. 
In reference to God, determinists maintain, "I have no need for that hypothesis." 

Many of us, including the most devout Christians, don't suppose God takes part in every single event. He is "a god of the gaps." When I turn the ignition key I don't usually say a Hail Mary that the engine will start. If it fails to start I call a wrecker and haul it to a mechanic; I don't expect a priest's or bishops' blessing to fire up the engine; though I might be tempted to try one of the Tom Sawyer's devices when my computer fails, like swinging a dead cat by the tail. 

This secular, scientific imagination has left many thinking God doesn't care about our everyday world. Millions of people live their lives day in and day out, week after week, year after year without any reference to God. If they fail they blame it on themselves, someone else or bad karma. It's not God' fault. 

When our warriors witness or commit horrible atrocities, the inevitable consequence of war, they often experience "moral injury." Suddenly their assumptions about "right and wrong" collapse. It seems that good is not rewarded by God nor any other entity; nor is evil punished. If actions have consequences they cannot be predicted by principles of justice or mercy. The spiritually wounded warrior asks, "Why should I care? Why should I be faithful to my wife, care for my parents, raise my children, hold a job or plan beyond tomorrow? What difference can my efforts make if there is no justice?" 

In today's gospel Jesus assures his disciples, 
"I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live."
A few hours after making that promise, Jesus was arrested, vilified, condemned, tortured and crucified. He might have been left on the cross as food for flies and buzzards except for the Jewish feast of Passover. His disciples witnessed the death of God. There remained only his words, "You will see me because I live and you will live." 

Rarely have Christians been so challenged as we are today. We still have an enormous "infrastructure" of Christians churches and shrines. Many of them are museums and ruins in Europe, fascinating to Americans and Asians, meaningless to the natives who built them. 

Christians cannot live in museums and ruins. We find our hope and will to live and courage in the the words of Jesus. A week after his resurrection he said to Thomas, "You believe because you have seen, blessed are those who have not seen and believed."

He was speaking of us. We believe. We have looked at the options. We see people who have no faith; they trust only their good luck and survive by their wits, with a tenuous trust in law-abiding people. They avoid scrapes with the law because it's easier that way; they avoid conflict with disagreeable people by avoiding contact with them. They hope to survive long enough to die a natural death. When terrorists strike they hide in their homes and call themselves strong.

Living by faith in the Son of Mary, Christians can afford to be generous, cheerful, hopeful and courageous. Hearing his name, seeing his cross, tasting his body and blood, washed in the healing water that sprang from his side, we bring hope to the homeless. 

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 290

Paul reached also Derbe and Lystra
where there was a disciple named Timothy,
the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer,
but his father was a Greek.
The brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him,
and Paul wanted him to come along with him.

On Saturday May 24, 1975 Bishop Albert Ottenweller ordained my classmate Donald Adamski and me to the Roman Catholic presbyterate. That was 39 years ago; sometimes it seems like last year; more often it seems like a very long time ago.
There was no Internet in those days nor were there personal computers. Cars came with seat belts but few people wore them. Americans had only recently discovered fuel shortages and how much the United States relied on foreign oil. Gasoline in those days cost less than a dollar a gallon. Less than a month before my ordination Saigon had fallen to the North Vietnamese Army. The war was over; Nixon was out of the White House; the world was moving on. 

At the time I used a state-of-the-art IBM Selectric typewriter with self-correcting tape. (I paid for that privilege by editing and typing the weekly parish bulletin.) In Carey one could call a neighbor with a five-digit number, but only from a stationary phone. Calling the chancery was long distance. Calling home before 11pm was out of the question. Most communication happened as it had for centuries, through the Postal Service.
There were a hundred voices in the choir for our ordination on that Saturday afternoon, and a respectable crowd in church. They would return the next day for the centenary celebration of Our Lady of Consolation. 

In 1875 the wood-frame church in Carey was finished and the recently-purchased statue of Our Lady was brought in procession seven miles from Frenchtown to Carey. The marchers saw thunderstorms ahead and behind them, to the right and left; not one drop fell on the statue. However, no sooner had she entered the church than the clouds opened up on the people, drenching them. A hundred years later their descendants, recognizable from the familiar names on the roster, would recall that wonder. In the meanwhile many people had called upon Our Lady in that holy place and been richly blessed with cures, consolation and mercy. 
On that Sunday in 1975 my parents’ Pontiac van, used to tote our family of eleven, was volunteered to carry the statue back to Frenchtown for a reenactment of the event. My Dad thought that was an enormous privilege. Never had such a personage graced that pre-owned gas guzzler. Fortunately the sky was clear and the sun was hot as they walked back the same seven miles along paved highways.  
In today’s reading we hear about Saint Paul’s selection of the young Timothy. He would be his protégé and successor, and the first bishop of Ephesus. At some point Saint Paul “laid hands” on Timothy in the ceremony of ordination. That gesture remains our way of investing deacons, priests and bishops with the Holy Spirit, as Bishop Ottenweller ordained Donald and me.
In today's Gospel Jesus reminds us the world will often hate us and always misunderstand us. We are not a religion like other religions; there is no comparison to Judaism, Islam or the Buddha. Only the Holy Spirit knows why we are still here and the Blessings we bring to our world through Baptism, Eucharist, Marriage and Ordination.