Week of January 8, 2017

Dear Parishioners,
“Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem ...” The story is so familiar.
We so easily see the Epiphany story as a fairytale conclusion to the Christmas season. Magi from the east, a star, camels, special gifts for the newborn king. These are valuable reflections on the beginnings of the life of the Messiah and his different roles. However, these spectacular events may keep us from looking underneath to see the ordinary and sometimes conflicted lives that were the day- to-day reality of the Holy Family.
The magi from the east came from a distance and traveled as they willed. They needed no visas, entry cards or passports. But once they arrived in a territory or country, they were completely subject to the whims of the local ruler.
King Herod was the local ruler in Jerusalem. When the magi came onto his radar, it wasn’t their language, dress or entourage that got Herod’s attention. It was their quest. They had traveled to Jerusalem looking for a prophesied “king of the Jews.” From that point on, Herod dominated the story. His power and control were at stake. A rival king was a threat to Herod. Even if that king was a newborn.
Herod was determined to find this newborn king and do away with him. So, in telling the magi that they might find him in Bethlehem, Herod wanted a report back to help him locate and destroy the child.
The magi followed the re-emerged sign of the star and discovered the promised child. How astonished must Mary and Joseph have been to welcome these visitors from a far-off country. What delight they must have experienced as the visitors shared precious gifts with their child.
The magi were warned in a dream, and they departed by a different route to avoid giving King Herod information about the child. Not long after, a dream also informed Mary and Joseph that their child was no longer safe in Bethlehem. They must leave their homeland and strike out for a distant place. Jesus, Mary and Joseph became refugees in Egypt.
In recent years, the church has assigned this week between Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord as a time to focus on the plight of people who are migrants and refugees. The magi were migrants in their travels seeking the messiah. The Holy Family became refugees in the land of Egypt.
From earliest times, people around the world have migrated from one place to another for countless reasons: to find food, to escape threats and violence, to seek employment, to flee repressive governments, and on and on. The case is the same today. In fact, at this point in history, migrants and refugees number in the hundreds of thousands due to armed conflicts, hunger and political and economic instability.
How many times every week do we hear the stories of women, men and children fleeing from Aleppo and other Syrian towns for their very lives? Families and individuals make long and dangerous journeys because they can no longer bear the devastating conditions of their homelands.
Beginning today, we dedicate a week to migrants and refugees, under the theme: “A Stranger and You Welcomed Me.” Let us reflect on how we, our forebears, and people we know have been or are migrants or refugees. May we find ways to ease the pain and burden of migrants and refugees — those in our midst or at a distance.
In the name of Christ, what mercy can we show to those struggling with the realities of being migrants or refugees?
Fr. Kevin

Week of January 1, 2017


 
Dear Parishioners & Friends,
The Lord bless and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!

What better way to begin the new year than with this blessing? The Virgin Mother herself probably heard it pronounced over her and her people. How might she have understood her own blessedness?
The summary phrase of the blessing is “The Lord give you peace.” Of course, Mary would have heard the word “shalom” for peace, a word almost exactly replicated by our Muslim brothers and sisters with their word “salaam.” “Shalom” expresses the depth of the concept of peace. The Hebrew shalom means more than peace; it means peace, justice and integrity in relationships. It implies safety and growth in wholeness as if the entire universe was woven together and functioning as God intended. The blessing of shalom prays that humanity and the entire universe may live the communion God created us to enjoy.
Today we celebrate the “Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.” That title would have surely overwhelmed the simple woman of Nazareth. But she didn’t have to concern herself with theology, dogma, titles and solemnities. Instead, she had a new baby, a confused but faithful husband and unexpected visitors coming to witness the scene where her family was trying to make do in spite of the inhospitable circumstances in which they found themselves.
What do we know of this young woman? First, we learned that God looked upon her kindly, or in Luke’s words, she had found favor with God. Then, we witnessed her humble self-description: “Here I am, the handmaid of the Lord.” In spite of the inconceivable dimensions of what she had been told, Mary’s response exhibited shalom. She trusted, gave birth to her child and simply cared for him.
When the shepherds appeared on the scene they knew far more than Mary could have expected. Delighted to discover her son in the manger, they started spreading the word as if they understood exactly what was going on. Like many of us, those shepherds were quick to make proclamations about what they thought God was up to in their midst. Like Jesus’ own disciples, these first witnesses may well have had the right vocabulary, but it’s highly unlikely that they fully comprehended what they had encountered. The shepherds talked, others were “amazed,” and we don’t hear a single word from Mary.
Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Her name would be remembered in the scriptures of Christianity and Islam. Generations to come would call her blessed, and the Fathers of the Church would defend her title as “Mother of God.” But, from the day of Jesus’ birth until his death, the little we hear from her amounts to no more than one question, a subtle request on behalf of others and a reflection of her own discipleship: “Son, why have you done this to us?” “They have no wine,” and “Do whatever he tells you.”
When Luke tells us that Mary kept things in her heart, the word he uses indicates a long process of mulling, a life of discernment, trying to put together disparate pieces of a mystery. While the process didn’t lead to quick conclusions, it doesn’t mean she gave up on it. Luke’s statement about her ongoing reflection is one of the reasons some conclude that Mary herself gave Luke the Nativity story.
Whether or not the narrative originated with Mary, Luke portrays her as the contemplative in action. Mary had more to ponder than anyone else in this story. She had to question her experience and her response. She had to make sense of all that she had encountered while balancing it with the traditions of her people. She must have accepted living with more questions than answers and far more hope than certainties. In addition to all of that, she had to change the diapers and fix dinner.
Mary, Mother of the God who came in the flesh of a needy infant, learned to remain open to God’s shalom, to allow her faith to exceed her uncertainties and her hope to give her resolve beyond her power to imagine. She sought to do God’s will as she baked their daily bread. We look to the Mother of God to teach us how to live simply as contemplatives in action.

Fr. Kevin

Week of December 25, 2016

Dear Parishioners & Friends,
Christmas day has finally dawned. There’s been so much anticipation, so much hype, that it’s hard for one day to bear the weight of all the expectations. That’s pretty obvious as we look at gifts scattered around the living room and wrap-ping paper on its way out. Great expectations have a lot to do with this feast, but they are great expectations that go through significant revisions along the way.
We know that the expectation of a Messiah had a long, long history. The downtrodden people of God yearned for the savior God would send them. Their hopes were chronicled in their history and the writings of the prophets. Like our-selves, they turned to God’s word for hope and, like us, they brought their own images to their reading of the Scriptures. They read God’s word in the light of their own mindset and created their own images of the savior God would send. They who had been bowed down would be raised up and all the world would see that they were God’s own people.
Today’s readings tell us the story of God’s greatest response to human hopes. God sent a savior who was neither king nor warrior. One of the clearest signs that a message or happening is from God is that something extraordinarily good is happening and it’s not at all how we anticipated it would be. No matter how much we learn from the Scriptures, God surprises us by working from another script.
Because the shepherds loom so large in Luke’s story, it’s worth looking to them for a perspective on the Nativity. Shepherds were among the least esteemed people of their day. Their profession demanded little more than someone who could stay awake most of the time, stop strays, and effectively aim a slingshot at dangerous creatures. Tied to a career that offered no Sabbath breaks, they couldn’t observe the letter of the law and would hardly have been among those who could have read it. By reputation they were not overly committed to honesty and would have always appeared on the scene with a liberal dose of the fragrance of their flocks. All in all, they were about as different from the religious elites as anyone could be.
We can assume that the shepherds had no sophisticated presuppositions clouding their perspective. When it came to waiting for a savior they lacked a theological checklist by which to judge any contender. We are told that angels appeared to them, but the angels only whetted the shepherds’ curiosity. Not that a sky full of angels would have been their daily fare, but that’s not what convinced them. Following the angel’s instructions, they went to Bethlehem to see for themselves.
They went looking for “a savior,” the “Messiah and Lord.” In Bethlehem they stooped down to gaze upon a newborn wrapped up like every other infant, with the singular distinction that this one was lying in a manger – just like the angel said he would be.
Our shepherds were the absolute opposite of cynics. Having heard that God was coming to them as a child born in the poorest circumstances imaginable, they thought that it was worth seeing for themselves. We don’t know exactly what they believed. They never could have answered the questions necessary to receive confirmation, but they shamelessly told others what they had seen and heard. Uneducated and inarticulate as they must have been, they were the first evangelists.
The Gospel of Christmas invites us to reexamine our expectations. Where do we seek God? For thousands of years God has been in the habit of appearing among us in the most unobtrusive ways. Supernovas and skies full of music only to point us toward something much simpler, something we must be meek enough to learn about from the humble. We will have to stoop very low to perceive it.
Fr. Kevin

Week of December 18, 2016

Dear Parishioners,
“Mary: The Most Powerful Woman in the World” was the stunning headline in a recent publication. To the surprise of many, these were not the words of a Catholic newspaper, or a religious publication. Instead, this headline announced the lead article featured in the December, 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine!
The article is written by journalist, Maureen Orth, who spent three years traveling throughout the world trying to understand more fully why Mary, the mother of Jesus, is so crucially important to millions of people. Here are a few of Maureen’s words:
Mary is everywhere: Marigolds are named for her. Hail Mary passes save football games. The image in Mexico of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most reproduced female likenesses ever. Mary draws millions each year to shrines such as Fatima, in Portugal, and Knock, in Ireland, sustaining religious tourism estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year and providing thousands of jobs. She inspired the creation of many great works of art and architecture (Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” Notre Dame Cathedral), as well as the spiritual confidante of billions of people, no matter how isolated or forgotten.
What was it about this young girl that attracted and enticed, not only Joseph in today’s Gospel story, but even God?
I’d like to suggest two possible answers, with the reservation that there are surely a number of others.
First, she wasn’t a preacher. She wasn’t an evangelist. She wasn’t an activist. Instead, Mary was a listener who embraced simplicity. She was one who paid attention, who reflected, who meditated. All those Advent qualities...
Present. Open. Available. Receptive. Quiet. That’s the kind of person Mary was. Perhaps it was that collection of gifts that most enticed God, and Joseph, and so many people down through the centuries.
But perhaps there is another appeal of Mary – her life experiences are being repeated continuously by millions of people even today. Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem for a census that is now being mirrored by countless numbers of people displaced from their ancestral homes. The family’s flight into Egypt to avoid the death threats of a tyrannical king, just as today millions of refugees are doing the same. Mary’s loss of her child by an unjust state execution paralleled today in the disappearance and murder of beloved children under dictatorial regimes – the Herods of today.
Women, in particular, may possibly find in Mary a sister for marginalized women in oppressive situations throughout the world – women who are without food or clean drinking water, without housing, without education or healthcare or employment, without security from rape, without human rights.
To all of them, Mary offers words of hope to the neediest – such as these words from her great prayer, the Magnificat: “... O my God ... You have shown strength with your arm ... You have put down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”
When asked what Mary meant to him, Pope Francis answered with one word, “She is my mama.”
May our “mama,” the one who is “blessed ... among women,” assist each of us in birthing anew the Child that falls from heaven into our arms ... our hearts ... our souls.
Fr. Kevin

Week of December 11, 2016

Dear Parishioners,
During the first Holy Week after he was elected, Pope Francis raised a few eyebrows and opened many eyes. On that Holy Thursday he visited a prison for young people where he celebrated the annual washing of the feet. Not only did he wash the feet of Catholics, he included Muslims and women in the ritual. This was a big surprise for many Catholics, especially some clergy. For centuries, the Holy Thursday washing of the feet had been exclusively reserved to Catholic men.
During this past year, the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Pope initiated a custom of going out of the Vatican one Friday a month to perform some “work of mercy.” In August the Holy Father went to a home for women recovering from prostitution, many of whom had been victims of trafficking. This, too, was an eye-opener for many people.
In the Gospel today, John the Baptist, in prison for following his conscience, sent a group of his disciples to talk to Jesus. Unsure of whether Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, John’s message to Jesus was, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jesus responded using a clear reference to Isaiah 35:5-6: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them.”
If someone were to ask Pope Francis, “Are you the Holy Father who was chosen for the church?” could he not answer in words much like Jesus’? We see in Pope Francis the works of love and mercy that we saw in Jesus.
In two weeks we will sing, “Joy to the World.” The liturgy calls us to rejoice already today. “Gaudete,” rejoice! The coming of our Savior is at hand. Joy ought not be put off. Even as we work, to prepare the way of the Lord we do it with light hearts, for we know that our Savior is coming to us soon.
In the first reading we hear this proclamation from Isaiah: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus.” Sometimes we experience our own lives as being barren as a wilderness and as parched as a desert. During those trying times it may be hard for us to be glad and rejoice when we are struggling.
The same is true for others. Sometimes people – perhaps even people very close to us – may be hurting or struggling, may feel like their lives are hopeless, barren and dry. How can they find a cause for joy and gladness?
For inspiration this Advent, we need only look to examples set by Jesus and by Pope Francis. Their actions have brought comfort and healing to countless people. Their love and mercy have brought hope and joy.
What if someone were to ask us the question put to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” How would we answer?
Jesus ascended to the Father when he had completed his work on this earth. He left it to us to continue his work here. The hungry will be fed, the homeless will be sheltered, the lonely will be visited ... and all will find a cause for great joy when each baptized person continues the ministry and compassion of Jesus.
And we will find our own joy, too, as Jesus ministers to us through others, even (or especially) the ones to whom we are ministering.
Peace,
Fr. Kevin

Week of December 4, 2016


Dear Parishioners,
Just 21 days left until Christmas! PREPARE!
Look at your Advent Calendar. Can you spot John the Baptist with his 100% organic outfit and odd, non-vegetarian diet? Although he hardly fits the cute calendar images, he’s a key character of the Advent season. His warning that it’s time to change our behavior may sound a bit like “You’d better watch out, you’d better not pout…” but the reward he promises for conversion is not at all like a tinseled tree surrounded by toys and electronics.
John is indeed promising a reward, but it’s one that only the needy and the converted will really appreciate. Right in line with the prophets before him, John calls people to get ready to meet God on their path. God, he says, is preparing something so new that it can only be compared to a refinement by fire – and they’ll be baptized in it. That means there’s a lot in their lives that needs to be blown away by the winnowing wind of the Spirit.
John proclaims this message most directly to the overtly religious types who show up on his riverbank. Lest the crowds think that his is simply another religious show like the sacrifices that fattened the priests and their purses, John calls out the leaders with the demand that they produce something worthwhile and not count on their baptismal certificate or Abrahamic lineage to give them an “admit one free” pass on the work of salvation. John’s preaching echoes Isaiah, his predecessor in prophecy, and puts an extra sharp edge on the message. But even Isaiah’s beautiful promises demand more than we might note at first glance.
Today we hear Isaiah announce the coming savior, someone who will rise out of the ruins of a once great, now defeated, religious people. The one to come will be an ideal leader, someone whose profound love and reverence for God will be supplemented by gifts of insight and the ability to enforce justice. The proof of this leader’s absolute impartiality will be that the poor and afflicted are treated with genuine justice.
There are 21 days left until Christmas. In these pre-Christmas days, a time culturally devoted to enjoying the company of friends and thinking of what gifts to give to those we love, we are called to celebrate Advent as an integral part of the holiday season. That means that we think not only of our guest lists and menus but that we also dedicate time to consider those whom we can never invite because they are so far away – geographically, economically or psychologically. Consider the Syrian and Christian refugees, the devastated people of western Haiti. Once we have contemplated them and their plight, we can pray for them, aware – better said, forewarned – that God may work through our prayer in unexpected ways.
We might say that Advent invites us to consider God’s wish list with as much attention as we put into finding the right presents for others. Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist all talk about God’s hopes. Isaiah says that God wants us to yearn for and accept the Spirit who offers the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength and fear of the Lord. Those are the capacities needed to create the community Paul envisions, a community that attracts others to know and glorify God. The Baptizer then calls us to take all of those lofty ideals and make them as concrete as the fruits of the trees to which the world looks for nourishment.
We don’t have to live like John the Baptist to be an Advent people, but we do need to listen to his message. He’s telling us the time is always short for those in need. God is waiting on our roads, disguised in the people who have nothing left but hope. We’d better watch out!

Peace, Fr. Kevin

Week of November 27, 2016

Dear Parishioners,
The elections are past — and candidates for 2020 have already begun raising their money. On behalf of the Incarnation, I want to connect religion and politics.
We American Christians live in possibly the freest country in the world. To savor that freedom we often overlook what we can do is wake up. We can follow the Advent instructions to wake up. We can wake up and see how long women and slaves couldn’t vote. We can look at this season in Burma or Iraq or China or even Britain. We get to vote. How can we be grateful for that chance? By waking up to it and not just on the Fourth of July, but also in the great season of the Incarnation.
Everybody loves the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It is a non-cynical exploration of the power of ordinary people to use their power to help each other. It is happiness in neighborliness. It is an incarnation of democracy in a film, the kind that very few throw away, even when the garage sale gets most of the other stuff they’ve watched for years.
Mary and Joseph may have found room in a manger but fewer and fewer people do. Contrary to the movie, the banks haven’t met their angel yet. What is a bank? It is a place where every time you toss them your money, they touch it and charge you for touching it. Or at least that is what they tried in the wonderful life movie. They did try and they did fail.
The biggest trouble I ever got in was preaching about taxation at Christmas. It was misunderstood as political, even though Mary and Joseph were on a voyage to be taxed.
I don’t think the Christmas story is “political.” Instead, the Incarnation imagines a different story about power and about the economy and about the small and about love. That is political plus, not just political. It surely doesn’t “hate” banks, but it does want to make sure small people don’t get hurt by them. It surely doesn’t “hate” taxation but surely wants us to know that nothing, including taxation, is outside of the power of the almighty.
Jesus came down to earth to unite flesh and spirit, time and eternity, body and soul, earth and heaven. Nothing can be outside the power of God, according to the God who came up with the Incarnation as a great divine intervention into human lives. That means a positive relationship with virtuous politics and democracy. We don’t leave them alone so much as engage them with spirit, as spirit and for spirit.
Surely the constitution was right when it talked about separating church and state. That separation is good because otherwise domination could occur. The separation does not mean that Christians have no relationship to the state, just that it is regulated. When we awake in gratitude for the franchise, we unite with the spirit of politics and the politics of the spirit. We go to be taxed with joy. We bank with justice in mind.
I love the neighbors in the movie. They loved each other. They didn’t just borrow a cup of sugar every now and then from each other. They realized that their finances were as connected as their sweets. When we wake up, we won’t walk around wondering who our neighbor is. We will know who our neighbor is. We will follow the incarnate Jesus who refused to have any enemies. We will stop using the word “they” so much. And we will set our alarm clock for early every day to savor the democracy we love.
Peace,
Fr. Kevin

Week of November 20, 2016


Dear Parishioners,
In Jesus’ last moments on earth, Luke allowed two criminals to focus the question of the ultimate meaning of his life. The first agreed with the forces that had seemingly brought Jesus to this moment. “Are you not the Christ? If you are, then work the miracle! Dazzle and compel them to believe in you! — And, by the way, bring us along on the getaway.” With his final breath this man spoke for all who believe in the definitive power of domination and ultimate value of self-preservation.
The other criminal became the gospel’s final and perhaps most unanticipated model disciple. Like the humble tax collector of Jesus’ parable on prayer, his focus was on God and the blameless man who shared his fate. Unlike anyone else in the scene, he perceived God’s presence in the innocent victim by his side. This criminal alone grasped the mystery that the King of the Universe was powerful enough to lay down his life, trusting only in God. Understanding this he could turn to Jesus and pray, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He was perhaps the only person present at that moment who desired a place in Jesus’ kingdom, and thus he was a comfort to Jesus even as Jesus promised him salvation.
Today’s feast invites us to contemplate the crucifix as we hear the proclamation, “He is the image of the invisible God.” This image of Christ the King puts all our ideas about God on trial. This image of Christ the King demands a response from us. We either ask to be a part of his reign or we choose to try to save ourselves.
We see here the God who comes to save, no matter the cost. We see here the God who knows nothing of coercion except its impotence when confronted by love. Luke invites us to look at the Christ and call him our King. Aware of what it costs, we are invited to repeat our Easter proclamation, “This is the faith we are proud to profess.” As we meditate on what it means to call this Christ our King we understand the insight of the criminal who didn’t ask Jesus to work any more of a miracle than to love him beyond death. He understood that Jesus needed no saving. He realized that Jesus wasn’t seeking an escape because the cross revealed who he was as the Word made flesh, in solidarity with humanity and trusting the Father. This criminal, one of the most wretched of humankind, understood that God was by his side. He prayed, “Remember me.” And as Jesus replied, “This day…” he declared that man “fit to share the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12).
The Feast of Christ the King of the Universe is a triumphant celebration of God’s reconciling love, of divine solidarity with humanity, of God’s love for us at our neediest. The image of Christ the King on the cross proclaims God’s presence with us in our most wretched moments, offering us a love and salvation we could not deserve at our best. This is the feast of the indomitable power of love.
What better start to our week of Thanksgiving? Let the lowly hear and rejoice!
Peace,
Fr. Kevin

Week of November 13, 2016

Dear Parishioners,
After a stint of several years in Africa, a European missionary went on a home visit and returned after a few weeks with a fine set of colorful posters that he used to illustrate his sermons. As he had hoped, the pictures proved to be a great success. Each Sunday after the liturgy, many in the congregation would linger around the posters and discuss what they had learned.
One day, near the end of the liturgical year, the missionary chose to preach on the end times and the consequences, both good and bad, that would coincide with Jesus’ return as judge and Savior of all. Before the celebration of word and bread, he set up the appropriate poster at the door of the church and then went to prepare for Mass. Before long, he heard whoops of delight and laughter, and he turned around to see his congregation dancing with joy before the poster. Surprised and a little indignant, he called for silence and asked how they could find humor in the prospect of final judgment. “Hell is no laughing matter!” he shouted. Then one of the revelers took his arm and led him to the poster, saying, “Don’t you see, Father? Look! All the people in hell are white!”
Initially, this little anecdote may bring a laugh. But beyond its humor, it points to an underlying notion that has been variously expressed through the ages. When human beings are faced with the fact of the great reckoning to end all reckonings, some of us tend to focus on what might be the outcome for others. The French philosopher John Paul Sartre famously wrote, L’enfer, c’est les autres (Hell is other people) — and some of us tend to think L’enfer, c’est pour les autres (Hell is for other people)! In his Inferno, the first part of The Divine Comedy, Italian poet Dante Alighieri exercised a similar prerogative in identifying which people would be relegated to which of the circles of hell.
Although the desire to assign places for others in the afterlife may prove tempting, the sacred texts and their authors summon our attention and our energies elsewhere. Do they call us to look within ourselves and find cause to worry about the end times? Do they invite us to forgo criticizing the speck in another’s eye while ignoring the beam in our own? Do they urge us against procrastination that keeps us from preparing to welcome Jesus? In some ways, the living word that guides us all through the liturgical year does indeed offer these suggestions. But more importantly, before any suggestion can be taken to heart or any question truthfully answered, the sacred authors direct believers, collectively and individually, to look at God.
Looking at God does not mean that one must seek out the beautiful vision or await a dramatic theophany. Rather, looking at God means taking a cue from our ancestors in the faith, who learned to discern the face of God by remembering all that God had done for them. God was their creator, protector, provider and guide. God was their liberator and champion, their mother, their father, their brother, their breath. God had been their loving, faithful and forgiving spouse. Looking at God created an ambience of truth in which they saw not only God but themselves and the fact that their sins had distorted the image of God they were to reflect. Looking at God also kept them from looking at one another with disdain. On the contrary, looking at God gave them a new prism through which to look at others with eyes of sympathy, appreciation and respect.
As we look at God’s face as it has been reflected in our own lives over the past year, we also will probably experience the painful truth that we are not all we should be. Nor have we done all that we could do to reflect to our belonging to God.
For that reason, the thought of the Lord’s second coming among us may fill us with dread and hopelessness. Nevertheless, we are to leave the judging of ourselves and others to God (Malachi). We are to set aside our fears and speculations; we are not to listen to naysayers or prophets of doom. Rather, we are to persevere in trusting God (Luke). We are also to busy ourselves with the ministry that Jesus has entrusted to us. Instead of minding the business of others (2 Thessalonians), we are to continue to look at God and struggle each day to give our-selves, our world and all others to God’s good keeping.
Peace, Fr. Kevin

PS: The annual finance report from 2015-2016 is included as a handout in this bulletin. Feel free to speak to any of the finance council members with questions. Gary Mann, Trish Dunn, Jeff Casella, Ken Mittlestadt or myself.

Week of November 6, 2016


Dear Parishioners,
In the 1980s there was a musical and movie titled “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” A production written about today’s gospel might be titled, “One Bride for Seven Brothers.” Such a show might not fare any better at the box office than did “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” though!
The scenario of the seven brothers each in turn taking the same bride seems far-fetched. Indeed, it was a very contrived story in Jesus’ time, too. The sole purpose of the Sadducees in making up this story was to trap Jesus. They had just tried to catch him up with the question of giving tribute to Caesar. Jesus eluded the trap and left them speechless.
The Sadducees did not accept resurrection in an afterlife. They tried to get Jesus to say that there was no resurrection because this woman would have seven husbands and that was against the law and couldn’t be allowed by God in the afterlife.
Of course Jesus saw through their scheme. In his response, Jesus gives an insight into what resurrected life is about. It is not giving and taking in marriage. It is not about limitation or dying. Resurrected life is about “being alive.” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all gone before. But God is their God even now. God is their God in this life and in the life-to-come.
The first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees tells the story of a mother and seven sons who willingly suffered and died because of their trust in resurrected life in God. In that passage, the mother says eloquently, “…the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”
“The Creator of the world… who devised the origin of all things…” – gives us the context. As Jesus said, “God…is not God of the dead but of the living, for to him all are alive.” From the moment of creation, all are alive in God. All are called to remain alive in God.
These Sundays we are coming to the conclusion of the Church year and the conclusion of the Year of Mercy. Today’s readings also call to our minds the conclusion of our own years on this earth. They remind us of the unlimited mercy God has for us in this life and that comes to fruition in life with God forever.
The hope we have for eternal life in Jesus Christ is not a “pie in the sky when you die” kind of thing. It’s not a “just rough it out here because there will be a big reward in the end.” No, we have God’s accompaniment in Christ all the way through this life, not just at life’s completion. We are assured of this through our baptism into Christ. Because we are human and limited, we may not always have a “sense” of the presence of God as we go through life. We may even experience something of a “dark night of the soul.” That doesn’t mean that God is not with us and in us. Even Jesus Christ at the end of his earthly life called out, “Father, why have you abandoned me?” In those times, like the mother and sons in the Second Book of Maccabees, we hang on, trusting in the mercy of God.
Since Christ’s coming among us, we now see in him the mercy of God and have firm hope for our continuing life forever in God – with the assurance of his accompaniment all along the way.

Peace,
Fr. Kevin

Week of October 31, 2016

We have heard from Fr. Verdieu in Carcasse. With some happiness he has re-opened the school. But there is still much hardship.  The people sleep outside who have lost their homes, crops, live stock and more. But he thanks for our support and prayers.

Here is the text he sent today:

From: Paroisse St-Joseph

Hello to all,

 I thank God for all of you and I think of you constantly in my prayers and in the Mass I celebrate. I continue to thank God for you who are always sensitive to the suffering of others. Bless you!

My dearest friends,

After the passage of Matthew cyclone in Haiti, God still asks us to unite and come together to help the community in Carcasse. Indeed this solidarity between the Saint Mary Parish in Barnesville, and Saint Joseph in Carcasse will show the world how we are one in Christ, we are all and all chosen by God. Thereupon Get these thanks from me and the entire carcass of community, which remains in very big trouble!

This community has so many problems after the passage of Hurricane Matthew, I would ask first of all PRAYER, PRAYER, PRAYER!

And you can help in emergency projects able to help the community recover its peace. When it rains, people have many problems. They lost their homes, they have lost their gardens, their heads of cattles etc ...... ..

With my thanks and my respectful greetings in the Lord!

Fr Verdieu Joassaint
Pastor
St. Joseph, Carcasse

So let us continue to pray, pray, pray as he asks and give whatever support we can.

In Peace,
Fr. Kevin

Week of October 16, 2016


Dear Parishioners,
When we meet the judge of today’s parable, we are quickly informed that the widow can’t appeal to his good side — he doesn’t have one. So, faced with his stony heart, she becomes the water that drips incessantly until something is worn away. To understand this parable we should pay careful attention to Luke’s editorial comment: This is a parable about praying always and about never giving up. It’s important to recognize that those are two interrelated ideas: to be constantly mindful of our relationship with God, and to persist in faith. As the song goes, “You can’t have one without the other.”
Interpreting the parable in that light may open new dimensions to its teaching. The widow in this story represents the praying disciple, while the judge presides over injustice. For what is the widow to pray? For whom does Jesus tell us to pray? If we search the Gospel of Luke we won’t find Jesus saying, “Pray for one another,” but rather, “Pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). The only time Jesus said he prayed for someone, he said it to Peter: “I have prayed that your own faith may not fail.” (Luke 22:32) The implication seems to be that in a situation of seemingly interminable injustice, especially when we have no power to change it, we are called to pray for those who have the power as well as for the perpetrators.
Now while those represented by the widow are told to keep praying, Jesus doesn’t say to do so in hiding. No, this widow’s persistence is more than obvious to the judge and probably to the general public. A New Testament prototype for the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps coming and coming with her demand for justice. It was like a staring contest between two 10-year-olds: In the end, one of them was going to give up, and we get the idea that she decided to keep at it or die trying. After all, her circumstances were such that she would probably die if her demands were not met. So she won Olympic gold for intractability. Since the judge would not move for love of God or human respect, she got him where it counted — his desire for peace and quiet.
This is a story of salvation, but not as it appears at first glance. Sure, the widow finally got her due, but in the process she saved the judge. She never gave up in her prayer or in the actions that flowed from it. She kept at it, asking for divine help while also devising the tactics that had the best chance of success. She made it easier for him to do right than wrong.
When we look to the widow as a model of prayer, few can do better than she did in making good on the petition, “Thy kingdom come.” In spite of what everyone knew and said about the judge, she wouldn’t stop believing that God can transform hearts. She refused to give in to the idea that he would never change. Like Moses, who kept holding up his staff over the outnumbered Israelite army, she refused to give up. There was no earthly reason to expect success, but if there had been, she would not have needed to pray as she did.
Of course, Jesus’ audience probably chuckled at the story as they pictured the pompous judge coming around to do what the lady asked, trying to preserve his dignity as others snickered at seeing who had worn him down. But Jesus’ last remark was designed to bring the disciples up short: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).
That’s the question addressed to each of us. Do we really believe God’s kingdom is germinating among us now? How far are we willing to go to cultivate it? Are we faith-filled enough to pray for those who mistreat us and for those who promote injustice? Do we desire the kind of faith that leads us to persist, as 2 Timothy suggests, whether it is convenient or inconvenient?
As we look around at our political situa-tion, at the injustice and violence that plague our country and world, there is no earthly reason to believe that it can all change. That’s precisely why our widow friend is held up to us as an example. Weariness is no excuse. Prayer has been found to be effective. Prayer will awaken our memory of Jesus and remind us that the kingdom doesn’t operate on the rules of this world. Only prayer will open us to the grace to overcome the inevitable disillusionments we meet in life. Only prayer can open us to the inspirations that will keep us going, and going, and going … until justice reigns.
Peace, Fr. Kevin

Week of October 9, 2016

Dear Parishioners,
Recently when a small group of seniors had lunch together to celebrate their 80th year a picture was posted on Facebook with the caption: “Celebrating 80 years of life and blessings. Grateful.”
A complete list of the things for which the group felt grateful could likely fill a page. However, for people celebrating their 80th year, one good reason to be thankful was just the fact that they were in relatively good health and able to go out to lunch together under their own power.
None of the group had any illusions about “life.” They had already outlived many of their contemporaries. They were also well aware that they didn’t cause their own lives. They held deep gratitude for their parents and for the Author of Life. They also knew that over the years, they had benefited from personal relationships and the resources of others. They had received so many gifts from people, from society and from God. Gratefully, these seniors celebrated “life and blessings.”
In the scriptures today, we have stories of people who received extraordinary blessings: healings from crippling and life-threatening disease that also excluded them from society. In the story from 2 Kings, Naaman was cured of leprosy. Naaman was overcome with gratitude and wanted to give a gift in thanksgiving for his cure. The prophet Elisha refused to accept his gift. So, Naaman asked for a substantial load of dirt from the territory of Israel. He wanted to build an altar of sacrifice on “Israeli soil” in his own country in gratitude to the God of Israel.
In the Gospel, we hear a situation similar to the story of Naaman. Ten persons suffering from leprosy encountered Jesus as he was entering a village. Excluded from society because of their illness, they called out to Jesus for help. Jesus responded to them. He sent them to the priests so that their healing could be verified. One of the 10 returned and thanked Jesus for curing him. Were not the others grateful? We do not know. But they did not return to say so.
Jesus comments about this. “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Gratitude is not just a social grace. Gratitude is a habit of the heart. None of us is our own source of existence or the source of all that we need to survive and flourish. All of life is a gift to us. Truly grateful persons acknowledge that they are recipients of countless gifts from others, from nature and from God. True gratitude springs from that essential insight.
The very word “gratitude” comes from the same root as the word “grace” — gift (Latin: gratia). Think: “grateful”; “graceful.” In Greek, grateful is eucharistain — the word we Christians use for our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist is the ultimate act of gratitude, thanksgiving for life and salvation in Christ.
That’s why we are here today. We come to acknowledge and celebrate that we are grateful for everything from God, through Jesus Christ.
We began with a story about the gratitude of a group of 80-year-olds. Whether we are in our 80s, 40s, teens or younger, we all are called to have gratitude. Everything in our life is a gift, starting with life itself.
Gratitude enriches us: It opens us to experience the bounty of God and others. The more we become grateful people, the more we will find to be grateful.

Peace,

Fr. Kevin

Week of October 2, 2016

Dear Parishoners
Growing up, we each had chores so that we might contribute toward the family’s well-being and learn responsibility. One of mine, not my favorite, was to keep the fire going when my dad set up the grill for a cookout. After the charcoal was lit, it was my job to keep fanning the embers so they’d glow with heat until all the food was cooked. All that required was constancy, a steady hand, a good stiff fan (one from the local funeral parlor served the purpose well), and knowing how to shift the embers and add new coals when needed. Depending on the amount of food and the number of people, fanning duty might take one to two hours. However, if we wanted marshmallows or s’mores for dessert, it might take a little longer.
Because of this small aspect of my history, Paul’s words to Timothy (second reading) about stirring into a flame the gift of God he had received always resound in my soul.
Faith is the motif in each of today’s sacred texts. The seldom-referenced prophet Habakkuk had grown frustrated with the lack of faith evidenced in his people’s behavior and responsiveness to God. He was assured, however, that God hears prayers and never disappoints; he also learned that while rash people have no integrity, the just, because of their faith, shall live.
When the disciples en route to Jerusalem with Jesus learned more of the challenges of discipleship, they feared they did not have the faith to meet those challenges. To that end, they begged, “Increase our faith.” Faith is not quantifiable in terms of pounds or kilos. Nevertheless, it is the power that inspires us, helps us to persevere, enables us to struggle and not lose heart, and keeps us ever mindful of God’s abiding presence.
Jesus’ images of the mustard seed and the mulberry tree graphically illustrate the power of faith to move the unmovable and accomplish what appears to be impossible. Jesus’ parable about the servant seems to say that faith is not a reward for those who have reached the higher echelons; rather, faith is the requisite for every disciple. When we believe, when we have faith, we are merely doing our job as disciples and should seek no reward. We are to keep on keeping the faith.
That brings us full circle back to Paul and the wisdom he shared with his younger friend and colleague Timothy. Paul’s advice takes on increased significance if we know that he was in prison at the time and was intent upon helping Timothy as much as possible before he was silenced forever. Little did Paul know that his words and his wisdom would continue to teach believers for centuries. We who hear his voice today are reminded that our faith is God’s gift to be tended, stirred and fed like a flame over which we have been put in charge. As stewards of this flame, we will know fear, but we cannot be cowardly, ashamed or weak, nor can we shrink from the suffering and struggles inherent in believing. Paul urged Timothy — and he urges each of us — to take his words as the norm by which we live and guard the rich trust of the faith. We do this with the help of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us all.
We are more than duly equipped for life in this world. How do we remain so? How do we fan into a flame God’s gift of faith that has been kindled within us? One of the Lucan post-resurrection narratives comes to mind. When Jesus met two of his disciples on their way to Emmaus, he stayed with them. He cited and interpreted every passage of scripture that referred to him. He took bread, pronounced the blessing, broke the bread and began to share it with them. Their eyes were opened; the flame of faith within them was set afire. They testified, “Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
These same resources, the bread of the sacred word and the living bread of Eucharist, remain available to each of us. These are the means whereby our faith is stirred and fanned into a flame. For that reason, we return again and again to Jesus’ table, where we are fed, where faith burns, so that others may also see and believe.

Peace,
Fr. Kevin

Week of September 25, 2016


Dear Parishioners,
I have had the great opportunity in my life to wander the streets of Rome, enjoying its glory and standing in awe of its architecture and history. Yet for all its wonder, poverty is around every corner. That poverty is really brought home when a mother sits on a corner begging for money with a sad and hungry child in her arms. I saw a similar circumstance on the streets of Chicago when I was younger, with a woman huddling in the storefront with her little child on her lap. I remember looking around at the businessmen in suits, holding their Chicago Tribunes under their arms and walking by as quickly as they could. I didn’t have any money at the time, but that image has long stuck with me. It calls to mind images of Mary holding Jesus.
It’s hard to reconcile the wealth within the walls of Rome, or whatever city you call your home, with the poverty right outside the doors. Pope Francis and many others have sought to respond to the plight of the poor. Francis said, “In all places and circumstances, Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor” (“The Joy of the Gospel” #191).
Isn’t it the American dream to have it all? Wealth, power, prestige ... There are people sitting on gold mines, while others sit in the streets, wishing some of the wealth would fall like refreshing rain. We have prophetic voices now that are ignored by the very people who need to listen. What will it take to open our ears and hearts?
It’s difficult not to want the lifestyle of the rich man when you are like Lazarus begging for scraps. The scripture story tells us Lazarus was rewarded in heaven while the rich man suffered on the other side of the chasm. It seems, too, that between issues of wealth, race, sexual orientation and many others, the chasms are very much a part of our daily lives. We are all divided in so many ways. The divisions may be for protection, as the chasm in the scripture story keeps people from crossing over between heaven and hell. Yet other chasms keep us so broken.
Lazarus has finally found comfort in the bosom of Abraham in the next life. The rich man learns he has already reaped his reward on earth. The rich man seems so selfish in this scripture. Part of me tries to find a redeeming quality in the fact that the rich man wants to warn his five brothers to change before it’s too late. Yet Abraham points out that the brothers heard the same prophets as the rich man and they haven’t listened. No person returning from the dead would change their minds.
“The Lord raises up those who were bowed down.” Psalm 146, sung this Sunday, resonates with images similar to those found in the Canticle of Mary: “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). Mary’s hymn of praise reminds us, as does Psalm 146, that the Lord, the Mighty One, remembers the promises made to the children of Abraham.
Where do you hear the cry of the poor today? What messengers do we ignore? God has sent us prophets for our time who implore us to heed the message. Yet we ignore the mother huddling on the street with her baby in her arms. God prepares a banquet for us in heaven, but we need to help those around us meet even their basic needs. What will you do to make sure you end up on the right side of the chasm?

Peace,
Fr. Kevin

Week of September 18, 2016

Dear Parishioners,
Today’s Gospel account from Luke is considered to be among the most difficult scriptural texts to understand. Some scholars have said even St. Augustine remarked that he couldn’t believe this story came from the lips of our Lord. The title given this story — “The Parable of the Dishonest Steward” — hints at what all the fuss is about.
Scripture scholars such as Luke Timothy Johnson, Cynthia Jarvis and Elizabeth Johnson say this is the tale of an estate manager skilled in the art of crooked business dealings. He was so duplicitous that when he was fired for blatant criminal activity, he found a way of protecting his future. His former employer seemingly shook his head in disbelief at how cunning he was. He even gets praise from Jesus!
At first glance, it’s baffling. Why would Jesus recommend the strategies of a crooked schemer? Because despite all his dishonesty, the man represents someone who is smart enough to ensure that his interests, however unscrupulous, will be protected in the future.
Through this story, Jesus is urging us to do the same. He’s telling us to act with the same determination to ensure our future. He’s insisting we should be as intensely concerned about our ultimate fulfillment as this con man was about his.
The whole point of the parable is to remind us what really matters, what truly counts in the long run: experiencing the divine love that will transform us. This is our true future. To obtain that goal, we are being challenged by this Gospel story to order our lives accordingly.
Today is celebrated throughout the United States as Catechetical Sunday. (As part of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis will celebrate a Jubilee for catechists on September 25 in St. Peter’s Square.) It’s a time set aside to thank all the catechists and teachers who devote their lives to handing on the gift of faith. It’s likewise a day to remind us about the importance of learning what the essentials of our faith really are. Such teaching, of course, begins in the home with parents, grandparents and caregivers. They are our first teachers through word and action. They are also the first to pass on values that can be permanently implanted in the hearts of children.
We have been blessed in the United States with a church that has emphasized the importance of teaching and catechizing. Through the years, an invaluable school system has reached out to millions of families in an effort to pass on the principles and values contained in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
It’s been a remarkably successful venture, following the directive of Jesus in today’s story of the dishonest steward: Prepare for the future; put all your energy and talents into ensuring that your life is fully committed to the reality of God’s reign.
Our bishops recommend that one of the best ways we can continue to do all of this is to make prayer central in our lives. They ask that all of us — especially our catechists and Catholic school teachers — devote ourselves to deeper study and practice of prayer.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux said that “prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look toward heaven; it is a cry of recognition of love.”
St. Francis de Sales assured us that “every one of us needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy — then we need an hour.”The dishonest steward used his wits to get what he wanted. We get to use prayer.

Peace, Fr. Kevin

 

Week of September 11, 2016

Dear Parishioners,
A few years ago an older couple asked me what they could do with their grandson. I asked what they meant by that.
They told me they were at their wits’ end trying to help him. His parents had given up on him. So, the grandparents were doing what they could. But their finances were being depleted and they were frustrated.
It seems that their grandson, we’ll call him James, had written bad checks. He had been arrested and convicted more than once. James had repeatedly spent time in the county jail, and the rest of his time he was on parole or probation, and getting into trouble again.
There seemed to be no end to this situation. The grandparents were not willing to give up on James, though. After some counseling, they realized that they could not put out any more money to cover James’ bad checks. He would have to go “cold turkey” on paying his own restitution.
At long last, James came to his senses and began to open a new chapter in his life. He stayed out of trouble, got a job and began to meet his financial obligations. All along, his grandparents were there for him with love and encouragement.
From Jesus’ stories in today’s Gospel, the grandparents were mirroring the love and mercy of God in their love and care for their grandson. God’s merciful love for James was coming through his grandparents. And I imagine that God was working in James’ parents, too, encouraging them to find a place in their hearts for mercy toward their son. Of course, they were free to accept or reject God’s grace. It took a while. It was long after James had turned the corner that his parents welcomed him back.
I believe that God was also working within James and in the court and jail staff as well. How else could James, like the wayward son in the Gospel story, finally find himself and return to his family and to God?
There are surely times in each of our lives when we are off the mark and need to find our way back. It might be in relationships, in honesty, in our prayer life. Jesus’ story tells us that God is always looking for us, waiting for our return. God never tires of standing by the road watching, ready to embrace us.
In the First Letter to Timothy, Paul acknowledges that he was mercifully treated by God, though he was “once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant.” Paul’s assessment was that he “acted out of ignorance in unbelief.” In that respect, Paul was like the lost sheep in the first parable in today’s Gospel. God was patient and sought out Paul in his violent ignorance and arrogance. “Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” Paul would later write, and he saw himself as among “the foremost sinners.”
There is hope for all of us! No matter whether we are willful or ignorant sinners, God’s mercy is not lacking. God will watch for us and embrace us the moment we turn to him.
There are also times in our lives when you and I must be the visible face of our loving and merciful God. We become the longing of God for the return of those who are lost. As disciples of Jesus, we bring the mercy and love of God to life.
Where are we in the “lost and found” of life today? The lost will be found because God will keep looking for them, sometimes through us. When they are found, there is going to be a great and lavish party to celebrate. Be ready to join in!

Peace, Fr. Kevin

 

Week of September 4, 2016

Dear Parishioners,
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives a clear call and instruction on “discipleship.” Being a disciple is more than being a follower. We see instances in the Gospels of people who were followers of Jesus who turned away when they were challenged to become disciples. Discipleship involves accepting and integrating into our lives the teachings and values of the one whose disciple we become.

One clear experience of discipleship for me has to do with encountering our brothers and sisters in Carcasse, Haiti. When we visit them we must put aside many comforts we are accustomed to and immerse ourselves in their daily existence in all its poverty and joy. We give up things we are used to such as clean water, doors, windows, air conditioning, electricity, refrigeration and become followers of their lives — eking out an existence each day from sunrise to sunset.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus lays out a clear challenge to his followers. To paraphrase: “You must not let any person in this world stand in the way of your following me.” “Figure out what it is going to take for you to become my disciple. Don’t be unprepared.” And, finally, “Renounce any possessions that stand in the way of being my disciple.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor in the first half of the 20th century, wrote a book titled The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer himself knew that cost firsthand. As a disciple of Jesus, Bonhoeffer risked everything, including his life, in order to resist Hitler and the spread of Nazism.
Bonhoeffer contrasted the cost of discipleship with what he called “cheap grace.” Cheap grace implies that the believer wants to have forgiveness without really being repentant, to have baptism without living the life of the church, to have Communion without really believing, and to be a disciple without accepting the cross. In other words, cheap grace means wanting to be a Christian without Jesus Christ!

In contrast to “cheap grace,” Bonhoeffer defines the costly grace of discipleship this way: “Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus; it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a person to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ ”
Bonhoeffer argues that as Christianity spread, the church became involved with the state, and secularization set in. The call to discipleship became exclusive to religious professionals like monks and nuns. Ordinary Christians, even some clergy, saw their Christian life as a practice of keeping rules rather than submitting to the “yoke of Christ” in full discipleship.

Today it is still as true as it was in the time of Jesus: Not all followers are disciples, but all followers are called to become disciples.

Peace, Fr. Kevin

Week of August 28, 2016

St. Paul, in today’s reading from Galatians, summarizes for us: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” With the urgency and detachment of the 72, we go forth daily, bearing the good news of Christ. Then, as St. Paul says, we will be “a new creation.”

One Internet ad for the Apple Watch promises you’ll “never miss what matters” and explains that it’s “you at a glance.” It promises that this super gadget will become an essential part of who you are. The author of Hebrews would have understood the philosophical field where this ad grew up. This final section of Hebrews is very much about helping people to discern what matters and understand who they are. The essential difference is that while Apple promises to put it all on your wrist, the author of Hebrews says we’ll understand it through celebrating with a community.
This selection from Hebrews invites us to glimpse the future coming toward us from God. The God who made Moses’ mountains rumble has prepared a festival in the holy city where everyone and everything is coming to perfection: the fullness, the joy of union with God and one another for which we were created — something we have already but just barely tasted in moments of grace. In effect, the Hebrews author is saying, “Look there, the assembly of the firstborn — that’s you at a glance!” This is the sort of vision that freed Jesus to be just exactly who he was, whether on the road, praying alone or at a party.

This week Luke takes us to another party with Jesus. At times Jesus must have felt like some of today’s banquet-goers: unsure of what will be less pleasant, the lukewarm food or the people who attend just to be seen. In reality, we don’t have a single story of a meal Jesus shared that didn’t involve some sort of contention. (Why does he let her touch him? Why does he eat and drink with sinners? Why don’t they wash their hands? Martha, Martha, the company is more important than the menu! And finally, “The hand of the one who will betray me is with me on the table.”) But then, Jesus brought enough wit to each situation that even if breaking bread with him was rarely peaceful, it was never boring. Perhaps that describes not just his meals but the process of conversion that they call forth.

Ostensibly, this week’s readings focus on humility, seemingly promoting it as a pragmatic approach even if it’s not a deeply felt conviction. The Gospel scene in which the guests try to appear distinguished while at the same time vying for prime placement is one that begs for a Mark Twain depiction. Was Jesus acting like a jester when he offered his suggestions for how the guests could ultimately get the recognition they craved by pretending it didn’t matter? The problem there was that seating arrangements didn’t matter to Jesus, while others believed their dignity depended on their social location. He and they operated on different planes.

The reading from Hebrews also deals with different planes, but in this case they are temporal rather than social. Hebrews challenges us to place ourselves in biblical time and remember how our ancestors came to know and fear God. Then, just as we begin to grasp the utter awe of witnessing God’s self-manifestation in frightening fire and deafening trumpet, the author says, “That’s where you came from, but today you are somewhere else.” With that, we are given a glimpse of the future God has planned. It is symbolized as a holy city, with everyone totally taken up in inaugural festivities. There’s a banquet on every block; ecstasy scents the air they breathe. Here, time is measured in quality rather than quantity. The joy of this vision flows counterclockwise as our irresistibly appealing God draws everyone and everything toward the perfection for which we were created.

This vision of God’s future freed Jesus. Knowing where he was going allowed him to be just exactly who he was at every table. As he watched folks jockey for position and saw the embarrassed host try to herd them into the right places, there had to be a playful glint in his eye as he whispered to some, “Go down lower, then he’ll have to come find you!” The twinkle surely grew when he said to the harried host, “Next time invite the blind and the hungry. They won’t notice where they sit as long as there’s food.”

Even if he said it lightheartedly, Jesus was serious about the guest list revision, and not just because the outcasts would be more interesting than the inner circle. Every meal he shared was an experience of communion. Exclusivity in such a set- ting is a sacrilege. Seeking communion with people who are different from our- selves is a path toward conversion. It will be uncomfortable as our values get rearranged, but it will also be a practice round for enjoying the peace of communion at the festival God has prepared for us - for all of us, without distinction.

Peace,
Fr. Kevin

 

Week of August 14, 2016

Dear Parishioners, Have you ever suffered for your faith? Has any harm come to you because you believe in Jesus? At this very moment, there are Christians being tortured and killed because they dared to admit that they are believers.

According to the book Jesus Freaks: Stories of those who stood for Jesus, there have been more Christian martyrs in modern times than there were in 100 C.E. in the Roman Empire. Close to 150,000 Christians were martyred in 1998, and the book estimated that 164,000 would be martyred in 1999 (Jesus Freaks, by DC Talk and The Voice of the Martyrs, Albury Pub., Tulsa, Okla.: 1999). And now, 17 years later, the numbers of those who are dying for their faith have increased steadily. Their stories have the power to feed our faith and fire our zeal if we but listen and learn.

Jeremiah’s story is told in today’s first reading. Because he dared to speak an unpopular truth to a disinterested and hostile people, he was thrown into a cistern and left to die. In the second reading, the author of Hebrews tells of the martyrdom of Jesus and encourages readers to be steadfast in their struggle against sin. The Lucan Gospel presents Jesus as a revolutionary who has come to set the world ablaze and be a source of division.

Each of these readings assures us that faith is a fight for truth, for justice, for mercy and for obedience to God. This fight was gallantly fought by Ivan Moiseyev, an 18-year-old Russian who in 1972 was beaten and then drowned because he refused to be silent about God. This fight was fought by 16thcentury villagers in Flanders who were drowned, hanged, torn in pieces or burned alive for reading the Bible. In 1999, Roy Pontoh, a 15-year-old Indonesian boy, was hacked to death for refusing to renounce Jesus. In the 1970s, Communist soldiers in Asia shot a 16-year-old girl in the head for refusing to spit on the Bible. During the Korean War, Communist officers killed a pastor and 27 members of his congregation by crushing them under a steamroller because they refused to deny Christ.

Almost every week, media reports include the horrors being perpetrated by self-acclaimed religious groups like Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, ISIS and the like. Just when it seems it can get no worse, it does. How do we cope? How do we survive? How can we help to repair and renew so much that seems broken and doomed?

Today, dire situations are commonplace in many parts of our world. Refugees are being refused, immigrants are turned away. The toll of human suffering is overwhelming in places like Syria, Yemen, Chad, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Turkey, Ethiopia, Somalia, India, Algeria, Libya, Afghanistan, Greece, France, Belgium … to name only a handful. There are “pelicans” everywhere ready to gobble up helpless “frogs.” But we, as believers, know for certain that goodness will never be overcome by evil. It may seem that evil has the upper hand at times, but it will not prevail. Therefore we hope, we pray, we give of our time, talent and treasure so that all God’s people will know peace.

We also remember that we are not alone. The faithful who have gone before us and are united for all eternity in Jesus are a constantly renewable resource for those of us who still struggle. The Hebrews author describes these faithful as “so great a cloud of witnesses.” Paul — who is now in glory with that great cloud of witnesses — once said, “For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory. … So we don’t look at the troubles … rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. … The joys to come will last forever” (2 Cor 4:17-18, New Living Translation). Never give up!

Peace,
Fr. Kevin