Hometown Welcome!

Hometown-Nazareth-Sign-e1428950184677 Mark moves us back to Nazareth in today’s Gospel reading. And it’s far from a pleasant visit.

It would not be unusual should a hometown boy return and be asked by the locals to speak in the synagogue. That being the case, the reaction of the people surprises us, though at least initially it should not. After all, what would one expect of a carpenter or general construction worker?

They are taken aback by the power of this man’s words. And they define it as “wisdom” curiously, suggesting that they realize that Jesus speaks with some power. Moreover, they recognize that his words are not his own creation but result from wisdom “given” him. The question then becomes who–God or satan?

Apparently the people decide it is the latter. They insult him greatly by referring to him as “Mary’s son” rather than the proper appellation, Joseph’s. Various explanations ensue, but in the end, most agree; it was meant and received as a direct insult.

It was probably worse than that. People in the profession of carpenter, stonemason, and such were often required to travel in order to seek employment and make a viable living. This allowed that their families were left unattended and more importantly unprotected. Such workers can be “shamed” by their very occupations.

Thus Jesus goes about his usual business of teaching and healing. He finds the response to his actions lukewarm at best and dismissive at worst. He counters by insulting them first. He quotes a well-known phrase: “no prophet is ever welcome in his own country.”

It is apparent that he cannot heal under these conditions, and only a few healings occur, rather than the “mighty” deeds done elsewhere.

Herein lies a problem.

Jesus remarks at the lack of faith in his hometown and equates that with his powerlessness to do “mighty” deeds. Forever more, people who pray long and hard for help that never comes,  conclude that their faith is insufficient to invoke God’s mercy and assistance.

And this is surely not the point of the periscope, nor do we find it in the commentaries. It seems more directed toward the growing theme in Mark that Jesus is not understood, least of all by his own disciples. We the readers are the only ones “in on” the true nature of Jesus. Others misunderstand him, and thus fail to gain all that he has to offer. He can only “lay hands” on them, and offer some paltry healings.

Of course not understanding Jesus is the point and it leads inexorably to the cross.

Similarly I think, when our faith is tepid, trotted out once a week for public display in churches throughout the land, we are getting only the laying on of hands sort of infusion from our faith, instead of the full cleansing breath of renewal that faith truly offers us.

If we would work “mighty deeds” on behalf of our fellow humans, our faith must be real and solid, touchable, close as a caressing breeze in the garden. If God is in all, sustainer of all, the energy that infuses the universe at every moment, than only by immersing ourselves fully in that light of love can we too project the power given to us in every moment. We must seize it, and use it.

No doubt a good many of us will also be rejected by our hometowns–who is she but the daughter of that woman who worked in the factory? Who is he but that son of a mechanic? How can they saying these things? Who are they?

More importantly, the real point of the question is not who is the prophet, but why did God not favor me with the task? Why that neighbor and not me? I am surely better, brighter, a superior speaker. Yet, they speak with authority and nobody listens to me. Let me remind everyone that they came from nothing!

Can we not see ourselves and our families in all this?

What might we do if we believed in ourselves the way God does?

What might we do if we stopped believing in what they say about us?

Religion vs Spirituality

A friend of mine posted this a few days ago on Facebook. religionspirituality

I commented that “I could agree with that.”

And I can.

But like all memes it suffers from simplicity.

Often memes are just plain wrong upon further reflection. Sometimes they are right “most” of the time. Maybe they are mostly wrong except in a few circumstances.

This one I think is mostly right, but with a few caveats.

First of all, most religions are not “someone else’s experience.” They are a lot of someone elses. Where Christianity is concerned that numbers in the dozens. And that only relates to its scriptural base, the bible. If you add all the other writings not canonized, but still reflective of how people of generally the same time frame came to see the Jesus experience, then it grows substantially.

And of course, that says nothing to all the theologians and biblical scholars that have expanded our knowledge of exactly what that experience was, and how it should be conceived of. They number in the thousands over the years. And of course the mystical writers have their own experiences to relate.

So we actually have a lot to dig through in discerning what that “experience” is. Much the same could be said I suspect of most other religions. The end belief system is the product of hundreds if not thousands of minds. And of course, there is much conflict between minds.

But religions have surely set dogma and told believers that they should adhere to those beliefs. They divide them often into those that “must” be adhered to, those that should be, and perhaps those that are “up to your conscious”. And these change too, moving from one category to another. That is where the trouble begins.

Do we dare question the insights of a St. John of the Cross? Or The little Flower Theresa? Are their visions and spiritual deductions sacrosanct because of their sainthood? Is mine less so because I lack the imprimatur of the Church? That is where one’s spirituality conflicts it seems to me. And it is where the Church, standing for religion errs.

For the Church seeks, based upon its self-defined expertise, to tell the parishioner  what she must believe to remain within the good graces of said institution. An institution made by humans I might add, whatever your current theology might be about what Jesus intended when he laid the mantle upon Peter’s shoulders. This is error as I see it.

The Church has a serious and important role. That role is to nurture, care for, and raise up the individual who comes seeking. It can and should not judge, but only facilitate  with love and forgiveness, warmth and understanding, that relationship between God and creature. It should in no way be a barrier, EVER. When it does so, well as Jesus said, better tie a millstone around its neck and drown it.

And of course many would do just that. In the name of God.

And they are just as wrong as those who see the Church as God, speaking for, judging for, and forgiving for God.

For that purpose of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending to the sick, and ministering to all who are suffering, is the primary goal and purpose of religion, or Church. And if, I would argue, it limited itself to that purpose, it might well effectively reduce suffering in the world in a degree that would stupefy modern governments.

That is not it’s only purpose however. It serves to be the gathering forum for believers, and that is of no small importance. For the scriptures make clear to us, throughout them, that the gathering of the people in “church” is valuable and necessary. In some sense the Trinity teaches us that–one God in three forms operating in perfect community. We are communal creatures, and Church can and should mirror that perfect community. We are called to act selflessly, and no better place to learn it SHOULD be the Church.

Instead of course, we find nothing but judgment and rejection for so many. As if God needs humans to prevent other humans from approaching the altar. As if somehow the Church sanctifies and not God.

Spirituality is not a substitute for church in this sense. All too many people are walking around proclaiming their spirituality and their self-interpretation of scripture. The trouble is, scripture is not something that one can “just understand with an IQ of 100” as a self-proclaimed atheist recently told me. Although not a believer, he insisted that our “debate” be limited to the four corners of the bible, and using the common sense meaning of the words themselves. Of course such a notion is absurd.

Millions of unchurched Christianists proclaim what God wants, needs,  and hates. They then insist that we conform to their beliefs. Church can and should be the counterpoint to this sort of self-serving Christianity. If it is wrong for a church to speak for God, how much more so when an individual seeks to tell another what God wills or punishes? Here faith is simply used as a defense to calls of bigotry. We hear, “I personally don’t care about _______, but God is against it in the bible, and it’s my Christian duty to speak up.”

This is what comes from unfettered “spirituality” absent the restraints religion heterodoxy. But heterodoxy is in the end a human endeavor, and should never be confused with God, now with eternal truth. It is the best of what we understand now, and not what we may realize tomorrow.

Smart churches do this. All churches should do this.

Churches should be spending more time helping its members explore and think. As in all things, critical thinking skills apply. The dogma of the present church should but serve to start the discussion, and the exploration. God gave us these marvelous thinking instruments and they are meant to be used. Only by the deepest and broadest searching will we be rewarded with the most meaningful experience of God.

So, it’s not all one, or all the other. Each goes wrong by itself. It is the blending of both, and the value of both that enriches the individual.


And Yet We Try

Father GodOh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!

For who has known the mind of the Lord
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given him anything
that he may be repaid? (Rom 11:33-35)

This is a troubling passage for most of us. It suggests that no matter what we do, we are too small, too limited to understand God. When faced with some calamity or other that we cannot understand, we say oh so mysteriously “God has his reasons, and someday we will understand.” Such nonsense is less than helpful to the one suffering, but we are at a loss and so we say such inane things.

For a variety of reasons, many biblical scholars conclude that the real first attempt to set down in writing the oral traditions of the early Israelites didn’t occur until the tribes had secured the land of Palestine. That is only a beginning of course, relating to the ancient times, the exodus, the wandering and the entering into the land. It is no little stretch to see why this might be so. Given the bloody history of the take over of the land by the various tribes, it is not unexpected that some effort would be made to tailor the stories to defend all that invasion and mayhem as God-ordained.

Similarly when we look at the histories in Samuel, Kings, and so forth, we see justifications for the political lifestyle that was being faced by those returning from exile. We see theology melded around political necessity and reality. We see the winners proclaiming truth. The losers no doubt had their own version.

So what do we make of this thing called “THE BIBLE”? A collection of writings, all unknown today, and perhaps largely unknown at the time. At least the source of much that was put down in written form had come from hundreds if not more than a thousand years before. Traditions oral, handed down from generation to generation. And more than one in some cases for the same basic “history”.

We can of course make it all quite easy. We can simply declare that it is all written at the direction of the Almighty Himself–not exactly dictated, but placed within the mind of various scribes exactly as God desires, and they faithfully scribbled it down as if it was being read to them in their mind. To make it a “human” endeavor, we are told that each writer used his own “words” although it is hard to explain why God’s words wouldn’t be considered the best.

We can do this, making the Bible the “word of God”, smiling smugly and going on with nary another thought, glad that that problem has been laid aside as solved. No matter that it is not remotely true of course, or that someone so grand and perfect could surely “write” a manual of behavior much simpler and easier to understand. And do not say it is not hard to understand. If that were so, then pray tell why are there so many (30,000 at least) various “churches” all claiming that they have got it right and nobody else, quite right. To say nothing of all those millions who actually in their arrogance eschew “experts” and find the document easy enough for the average person to understand as written.

We actually know that the bible, or should we say the various writings that would one day be declared, by men long dead, the bible, have been rewritten more than several times. They are not all the same, there are longer or shorter versions of some books, parts left out, and new parts added. We can tease apart a good deal of this, but it all leads to something called an “oral tradition” that is not capable of being “located” or known. Our oldest copies are not so very old when we look at what they refer to. Most are from the Common Era, after the birth of Christ.

They are copies of things we no longer have, and they are probably copies of other things we don’t have either. And on it goes.

And the most we can say, is that God, we trust, has held these minds in loving embrace while they struggled to explain their history and times and how God had occupied their world and influenced it, changed it, and directed them. If we are to believe that God really means free will, then he did not put words or thoughts in their minds, but loved them fiercely and from that relationship trusted that they would speak truthfully as they understood.

So some of what they believed is true, and some is just not. But they were well-meaning, honest, and dedicated to showing this wonderful God as the center of the universe they lived in. And that is the best we can expect.

And it is humbling, this knowing.

For we are no different. We are well-meaning, and we are honest, and we too are dedicated to explaining to ourselves and to each other how this God we so love works in the world and in our lives.

And we struggle with words, and ideas, and concepts. And we don’t get it all right, but we get some of it right. And a thousand years from now, others will continue doing the same.

And bit by bit, perhaps we will piece together some mosaic of this Godness. At least enough to know that it is too grand for each of us, for all of us.

It is a process we experience, this doing God. It is touching ourselves in our aloneness, and in our neediness. It is discovering that the only important thing is love, and from that all good comes. And when we feel that perfect loving peace for short moments, then we know in some place deep inside that we have for a brief instance brushed aside the veil and we have seen.

And we scribble hurriedly before it slips from us, as it must. And others will judge if we have hit the mark or failed, far from now.

For we are creature.

And yet we try.

Who Am I?

whoamIMuch has been written about the passage in Luke wherein Jesus asks of his disciples: Who do you say that I am? Much will continue to be written about it no doubt. And the writings will be important and informative as they always are.

Who we view Christ as, will continue to be an important question, one that we must answer again and again as we move through this mortal life.

But I hazard the guess that our answer tells us far more. It  informs us significantly who we are. And I suggest that it is just as profitable that we ask this question of ourselves.

Who am I?

To say that Jesus is the Christ is to impart little real information. All believing Christians would say as much, yet one must admit that all believing Christians are not the same. What do we mean by that affirmation? If we mean that Jesus was the one sent by God to save us from ourselves, to provide the gateway to a place called heaven merely by affirming his correct appellation, then it says much about who WE are doesn’t it?

It suggests that our faith journey has been stalled at the most primitive and self-serving. Surely this is not what Jesus meant for us. Surely that is not the meaning of the what Luke records Him as having said:

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Those are powerful words. Worse, they are frightening. We must be willing to lose our lives in order to save it. And the ironic point of this is that while this might seem utterly self-serving, when we actively lose our lives we have lost any sense of saving ourselves at all. We have transcended that earthly way of being.

Losing our lives does not mean literally, it means to recognize and relinquish the daily investment in life that we as humans seem married to. The slogging it out in a world of like-minded individuals, each struggling to “make it” however defined. Each trying to secure their piece of the pie, getting their fair share, working for the “good life”, preparing for retirement, all the mess that we find part of life.

Letting go of that agenda, that mind-set is what is meant. Are you ready to live for others? Are you ready to spend your waking moments engaged in making the world a better place, not compelled by some belief that you are “working out your salvation” but simply motivated by love for humanity?  Are you uninterested in the newest model car, but finding “transportation” sufficient if it gets you where you need to be to help where that is needed? Are you unconcerned about the stock market and the condition of your portfolio on a daily basis, but trust that God will provide and keep your eyes on the tasks at hand?

If this is how you view Jesus as the Christ, then you have and are answering who you are.

It is a common enough question. It is all too often answered with the usual, spouse, parent, professional position response. We are those things surely, but we are something so much more. We are spiritual beings created to relate to our Creator. We are living out a human existence, but when that is over we shall return to our true existence.

If all that be true, then our time here as creature is purposely so. If life can be described by most as short and filled with a  fair amount of pain, then there must be something we are missing when we spend every waking moment worrying and fretting and plotting and scheming to get to some “place” of comfort and happiness. If that is who we are, then we are not in the Kingdom, we are running from it.

Jesus surely did not need to ask the question of Peter. He clearly knew from long hours, weeks and months of living intimately together, exactly what Peter thought of him. No, he asked Peter, as he asks us, in order to force us to confront ourselves and what we have made and are making of this precious time as human.

Who are you?



And The Spirit Will Teach You Everything

pentecost-canzianiI spend most of my writing time talking about politics. If you devote any of your time reading about the state of our union, you undoubtedly know that the contentious nature of our politics has never been greater than it is today.

We come to our faith in the hopes of calmer and more peaceful time.

Yet, the same divisions that divide us politically, tend to filter into our faith traditions as well. We are divided there as well.

We divide over doctrine assuredly, and we divide over what constitutes proper obedience to God. We interpret differently about all too many issues, and miss along the way the truth that is offered to us in simple and complex stories, meant not to suffice as some history, but rather to teach important moral truths about us and our relationship to our God.

Yet, time and time again, when we look carefully, we find answers to our differences.

Today, on Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, that mysterious aspect of the Triune God that is in some sense ephemeral to us. Jesus we can “get”, for Jesus took human form, and we relate to Him in that fashion, as a person. We tend of course to do the same with God the Father, fashioning Him a “throne” and giving him a hands to hold us. The Spirit, however,  is wispy and not within our grasp physically.

Yet for us, the Spirit is perhaps the most approachable of the aspects of the Trinity. It is described in powerful language of wind and fire, things that were life-giving and life-sustaining. Wind moved the fields of grain, helped them to grow strong and thrive. It moved ships at sea, bringing us to safe harbor. Fire provided warmth, safety from wild animals, and the cooking medium for our food.

But I do not try to define the Spirit so much as acknowledge that it was a powerful physical presence to those who felt it that first Pentecost. They were astounded at its power, and perhaps, it was the seminal reason for the success of the early church. It more than anything gave proof to the teachings of the apostles who related stories of this mysterious but now departed “savior.”

And the Spirit is indeed powerful. Many attribute the Spirit for the Second Vatican Council, and its radical realignment of the Church. Many find the Spirit at work in important events of our time, drawing us together, bringing forth an unthought of consensus in our darkest of hours.

Paul said, that “No one can say Jesus Christ is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

That is an amazing statement and should give us serious pause.

What Paul says is that if someone declares themselves to be a Christian, they can only say that because they are filled with the Spirit of God. They have been, in a sense, stamped with approval. Who are we, then, as mere mortals, those who are to be guided by that Spirit, to dispute what the Spirit has decided?

Does not God have the ability and power to move within any person God chooses? Does God have the ability and power to deny a person the Spirit? If the answer is yes, then we must seriously ask ourselves whether it is our place to claim that this person or that person, this group or that, fail to meet some standard we have erected as to what is “Christian” and what is not. We work against the Spirit when we do this. (To say nothing of judging how the Spirit does or does not move within the hearts of other faiths not Christian)

In our drive to “understand” we take upon ourselves the audacious “right” to decide that God would or would not come to “this type of person” or “that type of group”. We not only decide what God would or would not do, based upon our human thinking, but then we “act” for God in refusing such persons or groups the full welcome due them as members of our faith communities.

I was much taken aback when I learned that at the Cathedral home of Cardinal Dolan, the following took place:

After Timothy Cardinal Dolan wrote a column comparing practicing homosexuals and others who approach Holy Communion in a state of serious sin to children who fail to wash their hands before supper, homosexual Catholics and their supporters showed up for Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with filthy hands as a form of protest, and were denied entry.

Joseph Amodeo, the organizer of the protest, said that the act of dirtying their hands was an attempt to tell Cardinal Dolan that those who practice the gay lifestyle should be accepted as they are.

The small group of about ten protesters was intercepted by NYC police, who informed them that the Cathedral would not allow them to protest the Mass. Undaunted, Amodeo and his allies proceeded to St. Patrick’s anyway, where they were informed that they were welcome at Mass, provided they washed their hands.

Amodeo said he was “astounded” by the request.

“What astounded me most was when he said that we could enter the cathedral so long as we washed our hands first,” Amodeo wrote in The Huffington Post. “Even now, writing those words I find myself struggling to understand their meaning, while coming to terms with their exclusionary nature.”

This is taking over what belongs to God in the most awful way to my mind. Surely Jesus can come to those persons Jesus chooses under the bread and wine without the help of the Cardinal or any one for that matter. Surely Jesus can refrain from joining to any person under the bread and win without help of the Cardinal as well.

We do well to remember that we are creature, not mini-gods. None of us, from the laity to the clergy stands in any different place vis-a-vis our Creator.

The Spirit goes where it will, and it affects what It chooses. Let not we poorly understanding humans get in the way.


Insanity or Faith?

miraculous-catch2It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different outcome.

If that is true, then there must be a fine line between insanity and faith. For faith calls us to believe that the outcome will be different even though our prayer has remained unanswered over and over again.

Saint Monica is a perfect example. Mother of the great Church Father Augustine, Monica was a woman of Christian faith who bore a son by a pagan who himself remained pagan for many years. Monica prayed unceasingly that her son would see the light and join the true faith.

After many years we know of course, that her prayers were finally answered. Augustine saw the truth in one moment of clarity, and went on to be the Bishop of Hippo and one of our greatest theologians.

But we need not go to ancient times to find examples. We too do it in our every day lives. “Practice makes perfect” is a euphemism for the fact, that we humans are tenacious in our determination to succeed. We are told to “get up, dust ourselves off, and try again.” We DO expect different outcomes. We search for the error of our past attempt and seek to rectify it. We are by nature people of great faith.

In Luke 5: 1-11 we have the story of the miraculous catch. Jesus calls Peter and the others to put back out to sea, and after addressing the crowds, he tells Peter to let out the nets. Having spend the night fishing with no results, Peter protests, “Master we have worked hard all night and caught nothing!”

One can imagine Jesus smiling gently, as if to say, “Peter we have done this all before many times. When will you trust me?” Of course he doesn’t, perhaps the look is enough. You can almost hear the sigh from Peter as he reaches for the net, “at your command, I will lower the nets.” Of course we all know what happened.

Children intuitively I think never give up. They have yet to have a firm grip on “reality” and so they do expect a different outcome. Each peek-a-boo is anticipated with the same first-time-ever expectation–What will happen next? As we grow up, and lose this sense of wonder, we lose our abilities sometimes to “try again.” This is especially true about the big issues. We may try again and again to bake that cake that seems always to turn out dismally, but we are sometimes loathe to try again a relationship when we have been hurt badly.

We may give up on politics as a worthless pursuit because the engines of government turn so slowly and the rancor is so intense that “nothing will ever get done.” Yet there are, thankfully, tens of thousands, who keep the nose to the grindstone and incrementally, maybe over decades, make small but ultimately important changes. A life time might be spent on preserving one small wet-land. Who is to say that this is not great faith along with dogged work?

Jesus’ lesson is that faith does in fact move mountains. Peter and the others are changed in ways that we can but fathom from a distance. In this instance all the fine words of Jesus fall away, wonderful as they are and were. Peter has realized in one moment in time that everything he has invested in this man of Galilee has been worth it, and though he cannot yet know, it will be worth all that he endures and suffers in the future.

Through Peter’s faith, we realize our own. We stand a bit straighter, for the burden lightens. We are not alone in our failures and missings of the mark. Jesus is here with us, and he urges us to try once more. Our faith is worth our investment in it. We are reassured that we are not beating our heads against a wall. The cake one day will turn out perfectly.

Life can appear at time to be drudgery and hardship. In the midst of trauma, we forget the moments of sweetness and pure bliss. If we remember this miraculous catch, we will remember too that the sun will be back soon, our dreams will become reality and our hearts will sing the joys of life.

Have faith.

Love much.

Try again.



All We Need is Love

The Beatles - All You Need Is LoveToday we hear the great Pauline statement of love, sometimes called the wedding reading. Although I don’t understand the Beatles to be great spokesmen for formalized religion, they certainly got the message.

Paul, (the saint I mean!) makes it most clear, that above all things love is the key. It is the key to God, it is the very definition and essence of God.

Let us read the words again, and let them sink in:

If I

speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.
If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

We are told through the media what love is. It is tied up in sexual yearning and romance. It is surrounded by diamonds and roses and get-away vacations to tropical destinations. It is emotions brought to the boil. It makes one “weak in the knees” and unable to eat, unable to focus on work or daily concerns. We worry about it, we obsess about it. We pick apart every conversation, every word searching for hidden means. We rejoice when the phone rings and we despair when it doesn’t. This is what the media tells us.

But Paul tells us something quite different. He explains what real love is. It is patient, kind, not rude, not jealous. It forgives easily, wishes only the best for the other, rejoices in the others victories and suffers with failings. It is based in faith, hope, and trust. It is an eternal thing.

But Paul is not seeking to explain to us how we are to love each other, even though that is part of it. He is explaining what GOD is. He is telling us that this is what God is to us as beloved. This is what we must be to God.

Yet, it is how we are to be with one another. It is to permeate our very being and form our foundation for being in the world.

Why is this?

Paul explains that we are mere mortals, and given our humanness, we cannot see the true reality of existence or of God. We see as if through a glass darkly as he points out. St. Augustine remarked that most all we think we know about God is in all likelihood wrong.

If this is so, then why do we bother? Why do we bother to try to know God and why do we try to do  what we believe he would have us do? We are doomed to failure it seems.

Paul admits that our prophesies will come to nothing and our knowledge will fail, so why the attempt?

It is because with the love which is inborn within each of us, we have a chance. Not to understand perfectly for Paul is correct, that can never be in this life. But love guides us to make the better decisions most of the time. We will not always choose as the Spirit would have us do, for we are willful humans with pesky human desires that sometimes overrides the still small voice within.

But if we cultivate love in our lives as our singular goal, we will most surely choose as God would have us more than not. This will enable us to speak truth, and to use our gifts for the betterment of all, and for the glory of God. Love ever before us, brings us to right thoughts, and right action.


God is When Things Are at Their Worst

preparingYou may be starting to panic about now.

The big day looms ever closer. There is cleaning and cooking and buying and wrapping, decorating, and sending, and visiting. There are calls to be made and last-minute runs to stores to contend with. There are parking lots filled to bursting and long lines at check-out lanes. Children are rambunctious and tempers are getting shorter.

We are at that point in preparation where things can’t get much worse. There is still so much to do, and time is running out.

Thankfully, we are reminded at mass that the real preparation is going on confidently, inexorably, and patiently. All will be as it should be.

Our readings today remind us that although this is a time when life seems too hectic and overwhelming, there is good news, and that news sustains us in times of difficulty.

Baruch writes from exile after Babylon has carted off most of the Jerusalem population to slavery. There are only the left-overs of society remaining in the city. Those that nobody wants or can use. Does he speak of sorrow and woe? No.  Rather he sends greeting to Jerusalem:

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.

Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you
borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.
For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.
The forests and every fragrant kind of tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;
for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company.

Rejoice? Be joyful? Dress up in your finest?

Baruch says yes, for God will return Jerusalem to her greatness and her glory. A small voice, that of Baruch, but one that calls us to remember, and trust in God.

Similarly, Paul brings joyous tidings to the Philippians, a small band of Jesus followers who are under assault themselves. And Paul? Paul writes these beautiful uplifting words while imprisoned himself. He thinks of them in joy and with confidence.

He exhorts them to keep the faith:

And this is

my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.
Paul urges them to not waiver from their path.

Of course, we are all familiar with the passage from Luke wherein John the Baptist goes throughout the land proclaiming good news of God and calling all to repentance and to be ready for the Lord. He does this after a litany of the names of those that later on will prove to be the great enemies of Jesus who will actively do everything possible to thwart his message.

as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

In all these examples, times were ominous. Threats and disasters abounded or were on the horizon. People had every reason to give up, give in, and succumb to the times. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, some might say. Yet, a voice reminds us that all is not lost, that there is hope for a better world. If only we have faith. If only we turn toward God and keep our focus.

Today, our world is no less threatening. Because it is happening to us, it seems worse than at any time in history. This is almost assuredly not so, but it is happening to us, so it feels foreboding and dangerous. We are all faced with our individual challenges as well, some more deadly than others of course, some more painful, more frightening, more life-changing.

But through it all, a voice calls to us to. The voice of the Gospel. The voice of Jesus.

In Christ we find the sanity, the peace, the patience and the comfort that we so desperately need during times like this.

Turn from your preoccupations with things that often you can but barely effect. Listen to the voice of the Lord. Repent and seek the straight pathway to your HOME.

That home is Christ.



Christ the King

This title always seems a bit unsettling doesn’t it? Here in this country which prides itself on democratic government we view such things as monarchy as, well, old world, and based on created inequality. Not the sort of thing we wish to contemplate when thinking of Jesus the lamb of love and justice.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King with the passage we all know so well–Jesus’ confrontation with Pilate. “Are you the King of the Jews?” demands Pilate. He, no doubt did not understand the answer.

The context here is important. Pilate is portrayed as something of an intellectual disinterested third party who has been put upon by the Sanhedrin to deal with a problem they pushed upon him. He is seen in John as someone who might actually want to let Jesus go and therefore Jesus has in his own hands the keys to his release. Answer correctly and Pilate might turn him loose.

But of course Jesus does no such thing.

But in reality, it is perhaps even unlikely that such an event took place. Pilate was no intellectual, and certainly was not dealing with Jesus because the Jewish leadership forced him to. He was a cruel powerful man who regularly insulted the Jewish religion, and surely couldn’t care less about their petty internal squabbles. Jesus must have been to him, no more than another barely troublesome irritant.

John writes thusly for a reason. It is the late 90’s or early 100’s of the common era. Jesus has been gone for close to 70 years now. The efforts of the Jesus followers to reform Judaism throughout the realm have largely failed. Most of Judaism rejects Jesus as the Messiah. The Jesus people are facing having to contend with Rome on their own, without even the shallow protection of the Jewish “state”.

John, can turn his anger upon that leadership and at the same time, try to appear  nonthreatening to Rome. Thus Pilate is portrayed as a mild man, and it is the Jews who have forced Jesus to the cross.

Moreover, it allows John to elicit the differences that exist between Jesus’ coming Kingdom and that of Rome, the template of what earthly Kingdom is all about.

Jesus announces that no earthly kingdom, not even Rome will withstand his Kingdom. But it is no kingdom of armies and rich potentates. Instead it is a kingdom that is based on truth, the truth of God. Those who recognize Truth will recognize Jesus and his Kingship.

The truth of which Jesus speaks is the truth as announced throughout the Gospels, based on the stories of healing, of wisdom, of love and companionship, of service to others, of compassion, of inclusion, of fairness, equality, justice. This is the truth. Those whose hearts are attuned to this message, “hear” it, and follow. They enter into the Kingdom and become the Kingdom.

When Jesus asks Pilate, “do you say this on your own, or have others told you about me?” he really is asking Pilate whether he recognizes the truth in Jesus, or is he merely responding to the charges of the Sanhedrin. Pilate of course is clueless, responding in disgust, that “he is no Jew”.

Jesus in saying that his kingdom is “not here” is not referring to a place, but to a state of being. For we know that the Kingdom is within, and those who cannot see the truth of his message cannot and will not find the gate through which to enter.

We each need to ask these questions of ourselves. Do we see Jesus as King in this new way of being? Do we?



Who Do You Say That I Am?

The answer to that question determines a lot doesn’t it?

We are all familiar with the words of Mark 8: 27, and we know the answer that Peter Simon gave, “You are the Christ.”

Yet, if we talk to people of faith, surely we will get many varied pictures of exactly who this Christ is.

To some he is the suffering atonement that gains our place in heaven.

To others he is the radical street politician who turns the world and its assumptions on its ear and presents us with a new way to see each other.

To some he is brother, best friend, constant companion, always available in our times of need to comfort us, reminding us of God’s eternal love.

He is no doubt all these things, and much more. Our answer to the question though dictates I would argue much about ourselves and what we are prepared to DO in His name.

I have been digesting something I read last week, well, ever since I read it. It went something like this:

“Do you really think that God will think better of those who are less welcoming than those who are too welcoming?”

In other words, some tell us we are too tolerant of things and people they consider acting or being in ways that they define as not Godly. So they reject them or their ideas. Not obviously of course; they use the Christian safety valve–“I hate the sin, NOT the sinner!”, they smartly remark. But of course, it looks the same, feels the same, and results in the same–rejection.

And you can’t say that we weren’t warned. When Peter finds Jesus’ teaching about suffering unacceptable to happen to God’s Son, Jesus explains:

” You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings think!”

So we know that God doesn’t think as we do. There are many examples of this of course through out the scriptures where God acts in ways that confound us and are so very different that what we would expect. Yet somehow, many of us seem to think that somehow we have “cracked the code” as it were. We feel competent to speak for God on issues not mentioned in the bible at all, or if they are, in ways that are so different to the situation of today as to be dangerous to apply.

Since we are woefully inadequate in much of our understanding of the culture of those times, we should be dubious in applying rules and “laws” designed to deal with very specific problems of the day. This has been proven again and again as it relates to Paul’s letters which are unarguably often addressed to A faith community, and one that is suffering specific problems, not all of which we are necessarily aware of. Paul’s statements must be taken with the proverbial “grain of salt” when they relate to human-created social relationships. After all, Paul seemed rather certain that most of his flock would live to see the returned Christ. What else might he have been in error about?

In any case, we seem to be on solid firm ground when we adhere to the actual teachings of Christ, and they the teachings,  universally point that God thinks about love first and foremost. What grows love, what spreads love, what enhances and purifies love? When we are unsure about how to respond to some new or  even old social arrangement or thinking, we should place it up against the standard of love.

Does it further it or deny it? Does it bring all peoples in closer communion or divide us?

Would it be a good thing for God to spread his love through only one vehicle, or would it be helpful to reach out to disparate peoples in disparate lands and cultures and use those things that were normative to their environment to grow his loving human family?

Who are you? Are you a follower of love?


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