We do not know the day. We do not know the hour.—Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

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Dan. 12:1–3; Hebrews 10:11–14, 18; Mark 13:24–32

We do not know the day. We do not know the hour.

I am grateful for an end to the election season. Politics seems to get more contentious with every year. No one seems to be interested in serving the common good, just in tearing down the other side. And within the Church, the picture isn’t particularly good either. With the Pennsylvania grand jury report reopening old wounds and the bishops of the national conference openly divided about how to respond to the angry demands for accountability, our faith seems to be under assault. And no doubt it is. But countries have seen worse divisions, and our Church has suffered through worse times than these. Still I sometimes wonder what these events portend for our Church, our nation, and our world.

Our readings today point to two final outcomes: Heaven and Hell—being caught up with the elect of Christ, as we hear in our Gospel reading, or residing in everlasting horror and disgrace, as the Book of Daniel puts it. And we choose one or the other in the decisions we make. That point bears repeating. In our decisions, we choose something that draws us closer to God, or we choose something that takes us away from God and that ultimately leads to Hell.

We do not know the day. We do not know the hour. But whenever it comes, we choose one path or the other.

Jesus warns us of this in the Gospel of Matthew. The gate is small and the road narrow that leads to life, but the path is broad that leads to destruction. It’s fashionable these days to think that everyone goes to Heaven and that God is too merciful to send people to Hell. To a degree, they are correct. God wants all to be saved, as Paul says in the first letter to Timothy. He desires all to be saved and to come to knowledge of him. Yet scripture tell us of two ends, one for those who choose God’s will and one for those who reject it.

Our reading from Daniel contrasts the two ends for us. Daniel is one of the early apocalyptic books of Hebrew scripture, and it shares some common imagery with other apocalyptic writings like Ezekiel, another book of the Hebrew prophets, and the Revelation of John, much of it capturing the tribulation and cataclysm of the end days. The prophet writes, “[I]t will be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time.” The reading from Mark is even more dramatic: “[I]n those days after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

The events of our day do not look so bad in comparison. But Jesus warns us to be prepared, to live now as if the master is returning immediately. We do not know the day. We do not know the hour.

God wants all to be saved, but our readings make it clear that there are two ends. Daniel spells it out clearly: “Many of those who sleep in the dust shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” There are only two options.

In Mark, the elect will be gathered from the four winds.” The others will not be gathered. They will be left clinging to those things they chose over God. You see, we choose salvation or damnation. We choose to seek God’s will or our own will. God simply confirms our own choice. God doesn’t send the unrepentant to Hell. The unrepentant choose it for themselves. So the choice is in our hands. We can choose to align our will with God’s, or we can choose to focus on ourselves and cling to lesser goods.

So how can we choose God’s will over our own? The Church has given us some guides in this area to help us. They are called works of mercy, and there are two sets of seven: the corporal works of mercy, and the spiritual works of mercy.

Let’s start with the corporal works. These works are called corporal because they deal with the needs of the body, in particular, other people’s bodily needs. They are as follows:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Give shelter to the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit those who are in prison
  • Bury the dead

Recall in Matthew 25 when the Son divides the sheep and the goats. Those things that the sheep did to the least of their brothers—feeding and clothing them, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison—the Son says, they did to Him. In a very real way, when we love our neighbor, we are showing love for God.

What are the spiritual works of mercy? These are those works we do to attend to the spiritual needs of others:

  • Instruct the ignorant
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Admonish the sinner
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive offenses willingly
  • Comfort the afflicted
  • Pray for the living and the dead

Some of these are hard, if not downright unpopular, to put into practice. Sinners don’t like to be admonished. The ignorant don’t always like to be instructed. But it’s not merciful to allow someone to die in their sins. It’s not merciful to let the ignorant suffer from their ignorance. So while our culture often tells us that such things are just bigotry and judgmentalism, the Church calls it mercy. One great way to practice these spiritual works of mercy is to share our faith, to share the reason we believe what the Church teaches.

Jesus gave us two commandments: love God with your whole heart, your mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The most effective way to do the first commandment is to practice the second commandment as well as we can. When we choose the other over ourselves, we choose God. When we choose ourselves to the exclusion of others, we’re on our own. That’s what Hell is all about… turning away from God and going our own way.

In Deuteronomy 30, Moses tells the people of Israel, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore, choose life, that you and your descendants shall live.”

Despite what happens in our political landscape, despite what happens with the fallible human beings who lead our Church, there is still a God who loves us and wants us to be with Him. We do not know the day. We do not know the hour. But God has set before us good and evil, life and death. Choose life. Choose God.

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Posted in Catholic Doctrine, Homilies, Repentence

The Sanctity of Life—Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

Isaiah 53:10–11; Hebrews 4:14–16; Mark 10:35–45

Today we celebrate Respect Life Sunday, a day that the Church sets aside to remember the sanctity and dignity of all human life from conception to grave. I think it’s also appropriate to reflect on the ways in which some lives are treated with a lack of dignity and how we can remedy such injustices.

The first reading is from one of the many passages on the Suffering Servant, the one who will bear the sins of Israel, the sinless one who will be crushed on behalf of the sinful. His suffering justifies us all. Now it’s interesting to note that some early Jewish rabbinic sources clearly associate the suffering servant of Isaiah with the Messiah, while later Talmudic commentary associates the suffering servant with the people of Israel. But the earliest identification of the suffering servant is with the Messiah. He is “the righteous one, my servant.” So my question is, why does the righteous one suffer? Why is the innocent one sent to bear the sin of the guilty?

Our reading from Hebrews really zeroes in on the point of the Incarnation—that is, the Son’s descent to the earth to take on bodily existence through the Blessed Virgin Mary. The author is unknown. This letter used to be attributed to St. Paul, but some scholars think it may be the work of St. Barnabas, St. Paul’s companion and an early apostle of the Church. He notes that Jesus was like us in every way but sin—that is, he shared with us every element of our nature, but not the disfigurement that occurred to our nature because of the sin of Adam and Eve. When Jesus took on our human flesh in the Incarnation, He accepted all of our natural weaknesses: the vulnerability to illness or injury, the emotional impact of other people’s anger or hatred, our subjectivity to death. He was even tempted, like we are, but in His temptation, He did not succumb to it. That is, while He was tempted, He did not choose the sinful choice.

He comes and becomes like us. Some translations stay very close to the original and say that He “pitched his tent among us,” this referring to the fact that inns were actually more like camp sites. That’s what the Son came to do with us—to be with us. Why? Why would the greatest good come to dwell among us flawed individuals? Why would He soil His Divinity by taking on a human nature and pitching His tent among us?

            Of course, all of these questions we ask because we see with our eyes and not those of God. But in God’s calculus, we are worth it. We are worth the trouble. We are worth the sacrifice of the Son.

            This makes no sense to us. As St. Paul said in Romans 5:7, we will hardly die for a righteous man, but maybe for a good man. Yet this is what the Son did for us. He died for us when we were sinners. Why? The only reason that makes sense is that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit believed that it was worth it—not because we deserve their mercy, but because They love us and because we are made in Their image.

            That really is what Respect Life Sunday is about—not about our perspective, our human valuation, or means of judging worthiness but of the way that God looks upon His creation, particularly how God looks on each individual Imago Dei to whom He has given a rational soul.

We’re way too sophisticated in how we value things and people. We weigh the relative merits of a thing based on its usefulness or beauty. We dismiss things or beings of lesser utility. Those things and creatures we see as useful or valuable, we keep. Those things or creatures of less utility, we at very least ignore, discard, or destroy. That’s the calculus of human society. But that is not the calculus of God.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Notice that the words of John do not say, “God so loved the righteous” or “God so loved the religious” or “God so loved the inclusive” or “God so loved the woke.”

            No, God so loved the world—the whole thing. The neat and orderly along with the messy.

            We don’t understand the reason for the mess—for the desperation of those who get pregnant out of wedlock or even within marriage when they are struggling to make ends meet; for the elderly who no longer remember their loved ones; for the disabled who are on life support and have slim chance of recovery; for the prisoner on death row who seems like the last one who deserves mercy. For the poor and chronically homeless, who don’t seem to want something better for themselves. With our human calculus, we can’t make sense of the values at stake:

  • Why is a child in the womb valued as much as a child after birth?
  • Why should we force those who are chronically ill to persist in living when they don’t wish to, or why should we keep someone in a “vegetative state” alive when they’ll likely never recover?
  • Why do we give as much value to the life of a convicted murderer as to the one whose murder put them where they are?
  • Why do we try to help those who won’t lift a finger to help themselves?

One of the reasons our calculus is so different from God’s is that we formulate our questions differently. That is, our math is wrong. We’re using some kind of “new” math, and God uses the eternal math, the unchanging math He established from the beginning, in the beginning when He made them in His own image, male and female He made them. And that image extends to all of us whether we are nascent human beings in the womb, whether we are insensible in an ICU unit somewhere, whether we are in a memory care center and forgotten by our families, whether we are the worst offender on death row, or whether we are homeless and broken and on the street for reasons of our own doing. And that image extends to the immigrant and refugee among us, those who are victims of human trafficking and exploitation, and those who through no fault of their own live in destitution.

            God created us in His image, male and female He created us. That image is what gives us intrinsic worth. We can sully someone’s appearance; we can dismiss their utility; we can dispute their worthiness for mercy; we can question their “quality of life”; but we judge such things by a shallow and soulless calculus. Until we recognize the inherent dignity of the human person from conception to the grave, we will always by thinking as man thinks and not as God thinks.

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How difficult it is for the wealthy to enter

 

Fatima Rosary and Benediction—October 13, 2018

Mark 10:17–30

Do we really know what it is that Jesus offers us? Do we really grasp what Heaven is, what Eternal Life means, and what it is that Jesus has done for us? These are the questions that come to mind for me when I look at this passage from Mark.

In this passage from Mark, we have the rich young man who recognizes Jesus as a good teacher. Actually we don’t hear in Mark that he is young. That’s a detail that only the gospel of Matthew includes. But the man comes and kneels before him. So he assumes an attitude of submission to Jesus. But notice something here. Jesus says to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” This response should set off in us what Scott Hahn calls the “holy ‘huh?’” It’s that slightly jarring sense that we’ve missed something, that Jesus has done or said something that doesn’t quite make sense to us. The man has called him “good teacher” and knelt before him, submitting to Him as a good teacher. Jesus questions him, though. Why? Why doesn’t He accept this honor from the rich young man? Is it because He’s not good? That’s obviously not the case. Of course, He is good, and He is God. He’s not questioning His own goodness, but He is questioning whether the man actually recognizes Him for who He is. He’s not just a “good teacher”; He’s the greatest good, the source and summit of all goodness.

But He responds to the question nonetheless. Follow the commandments: don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, honor your father and mother. All of these commandments address the right ordering of human relationships. Note that the Decalogue or what we usually call the 10 Commandments is divided into two groups: those that address our relationship with God, and those that address our neighbor or family. Jesus names the group that focuses on neighbor and family first.

And then the passage says something again that is striking: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” He’s not rebuking him, or being stern with him. He is looking at him, seeing him right where he is, and loving him. The young man doesn’t know Him, but Jesus knows the young man better than he knows himself. And He knows his internal dispositions and the outcome of this encounter.

That, I think, is important for understanding this passage. Jesus loves the young man where he is, and He still calls him to a more perfect relationship. “Go, sell all you have, and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The young man has many possessions and turns away sadly, and Jesus observes how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Isn’t this how it so often is with us? We talk a good game, but have we really submitted fully to God’s will? Sometimes we have material possessions that seem to possess us. Sometimes, we have other worldly attachments that prevent us from fully submitting to Him. It could be sports or other relationships or professional advancement. To what lesser good do we cling that prevents us from recognizing and submitting ourselves to the greatest good? Do we even understand that the good we seek can only be found in Him?

A friend of mine and colleague at the diocese has a daughter who discerned a religious vocation with the Carmelites. She said that she had a dream once where she was standing on one side of a chasm and her family was on the other. And Jesus asked her, “Will you do this for me?”

She did that for Him. Of course, He did that (pointing at the crucifix) for us. If we let go of the lesser goods of this world, we will have the greatest good in this world and the next.

How difficult it is for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of heaven. How difficult it is to leave our attachments behind and follow God completely. Of course, we’re all called to different forms of obedience and self-denial. For some, it is more complete than others. And some have been given extraordinary graces that impelled them to complete submission. Jesus calls us all in different ways. Some are called to be laity and to serve God in the secular world. Some of us are called to religious life. Some, like Nelson, are called to the priesthood. But we’re all called to submit, to pick up our cross, and to follow Jesus.

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On the Goodness of Created Things—Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

Isaiah 35:4–7a; James 2:1–5; Mark 7:31–37

I’m sure you’ve heard people comment negatively on the wealth of the Church and suggest that it really should sell everything off and give the proceeds to the poor. Of course, there will be plenty of time for that in the future. Pope emeritus Benedict predicted that the Church would become smaller and lose much of the grandeur of its glory days. We are, at least in the West, becoming a smaller Church. People are leaving… and it’s not just because of the horrific abuse scandal and the ham-handed way that some bishops have handled it. We’re also losing a sense of the good, the beautiful, and the mysterious—what can also be called the numinous. Part of that is because we are becoming too materialistic in many ways, but in others it’s because we don’t value the material enough. So I want to talk today about why the material matters, pun completely intended. And I want to talk about how the material world reveals the numinous—the mystery at the heart of our faith.

Our first reading is focused on the themes of liberation and healing. God will open the eyes of the blind, clear the ears of the deaf, and enable the mute or dumb to speak. The healing goes beyond human healing, to healing of the earth where those areas once arid will become wet and fruitful. Recall that in Genesis 1, God separates the waters from heavens, concentrates light, and brings forth land, vegetation, and finally animals and humanity, and He declares them all good. He declares Humanity very good. Now if the physical world does not matter, it’s not something that God would proclaim to be good, and not something worth redeeming. But scripture reveals to us both: that it was created and that He intended to redeem it. Our responsorial psalm reinforces this message, but also adds justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, and release for prisoners. Note the healing begins with healing of two of the five senses—sight and hearing—two primary ways that we interact with and learn about the world. And He restores the ability to speak, so sound is actually represented twice, as if there were something particularly good about speaking or hearing. As a musician, I agree, and I would add singing to that list as well.

In our gospel reading, Jesus is traveling through the Decapolis—the region of the ten cities. These are ten Greek cities which mostly lie on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River. So the man who is brought to him may not be Judean. Jesus puts his fingers in his ears, spits and touches the man’s tongue, and says, “Ephphatha” or “be opened.” If you’ve had a child baptized recently, you probably recall this moment where we sign the child’s ear to hear the Word of God and the child’s lips to proclaim it. This moment is called the Ephphatha for this reason. In our action, we are saying, “Be opened to the Word of God.”

But let’s back up again and look at the passage. There are three elements here to be aware of: the touch of Jesus’ fingers, the spittle he uses—which strikes us modern hearers as a bit icky—and the sound of His voice. All of these are material signs, and we see others in scripture as well. The sign of water during baptism, the use of oil in anointing, the offering of bread and wine at the last supper. So these material signs are part of what makes something sacramental. All sacraments require form, which is the words that affect the sacrament, and matter, which is whatever material substance is used during the sacrament: wine, bread, oil, the act of confessing and repenting, the physical exchange of selves and consent in the Rite of Matrimony.

Just as Jesus uses form and matter—material things—in his healing, He gives us material things as conduits of His grace to us. That is what a sacrament is: a visible sign instituted by Christ to give us invisible grace. And scripture abounds with these sacramental signs. God always reveals Himself to us in the material universe, in the morning sunrise, in the complex beauty of a flower or tree, in the beauty of the human body, which He deemed very good.

But there is an old strain of heresy that creeps into the mainstream from time to time. We refer to its early form as Gnosticism and is sort of a grouping of mystical traditions that shunned the material world and claimed that it was evil. Only the spiritual was good. It showed up again during the third, fourth, and fifth centuries under the name Manichaeism, and one of our greatest saints, St. Augustine, was for a time a follower, until he rejected it for neo-Platonism and finally Christianity. It popped up again during the late middle ages in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with  the Cathars or Albigensians. More recently, we can look at a lot of New Age mysticism that espouses the same sort of dualism. Even our separated Christian brothers and sisters in evangelical circles often seem to have this same notion of the body as simply a shell that we inhabit, a physical prison or “dirt suit” as some call it.

But how does that comport with God’s view that the body is very good? What do we make of the Incarnation, Jesus’ taking of a human body and redeeming fallen humanity by joining in the hypostatic union Divine and human natures? Simply put, an orthodox Christian cannot be a dualist. The body matters. The material world matters. It is what God has given us to communicate Himself to us. And here at this liturgy, He gives Himself daily to us in the forms of bread and wine that He transforms into His body and blood. And all of this is very good.

And all of that brings me back to the good, the beautiful, and the mysterious. We sit in a beautiful cathedral. If you’ve traveled anywhere abroad in Europe or in the Holy Land, you’ll also find churches and shrines of extraordinary beauty. You can’t help but to be touched by the exquisite works of stone and stained glass. And it’s here for everyone—not just the wealthy, not even just for believers. Just a few months ago, two Muslim girls came here to leave flowers and light candles in front of the statue of the Blessed Mother. We open our doors to everyone to come and sit in this splendor, as do churches, cathedrals, and shrines all over the world. Could we sell everything and feed the poor? Perhaps, but for how long? And then who would have these beautiful things? The wealthy? The elite? Where would the rest of us go to enjoy a piece of heaven? Where does the homeless person go to offer prayers to our Savior? This place is as much for the poor as it is for the wealthy. And that goes for all of the works of art and architecture held in trust by the Church. As such, it remains accessible to everyone. To sell it off would simply be to deprive the poor and disenfranchised even more. They need these places as much as we do.

We may one day go back to being home churches—hidden, secret churches. We should never take for granted what we have. And while we have the privilege of gathering here for our Eucharist, let the beauty speak to you something of God’s beauty, which is reflected in all the things He creates and deems very good.

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What is it?—Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

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1 Kings 18:44; Ephesians 4:30–5:2; John 6:41–51

That’s Hebrew for “What is it?” And that’s what the Hebrews said in last week’s reading from Exodus. You might recall the people of Israel, after grumbling about starving, are given bread in the morning and quail in the evening. They look at the “bread,” which is the evaporated dew that became a flakey bread-like substance, and they ask a very good question: what is this?

When we consider the Eucharist, we perhaps don’t consider this question nearly enough. What is this that we are about to receive? Are we receiving mere bread and wine? Are we simply making a symbolic communal act? Is the Eucharist itself merely a symbol of our unity, or is it something more?

I’m going to propose that every prefigurement of the Eucharist in the Old Testament—that is, every allusion that the Old Testament makes to the Eucharist—represents it as more than mere bread and wine, more than a symbolic communal act, and more than a symbol of unity. And these precursors are pointing from a position of lesser to greater. That hermeneutic or method of interpretation is, in fact, a common pattern in Jewish theology and is used throughout the Talmud. A lesser pattern or analogy proves a greater.

We can start with the offering of bread and wine of Melchizedek, the king of Salem. His name means “king of righteousness.” He offers a thanksgiving sacrifice on behalf of Abram. Note that our priests are ordained, not in the order of the Levites like the Hebrews, but in the Order of Melchizedek which means that their ordination is eternal. It is joined to and is an exercise of Christ’s priesthood.

Next in Exodus is the manna, the bread of Heaven as the Judeans in our Gospel reading call it. The word “manna” comes from the same root as the words man hu. Note that the Judeans are no closer to the truth about what manna is than their forefathers, who at least had the sense to ask, “What is this?” Jesus points out their ignorance, that they do not recognize the true source of this bread from Heaven, which is God the Father.

We can go a step further and talk about the bread offered in the temple in Jerusalem, the bread given as a todah (תודה) or thanksgiving offering. In Exodus 25:30 we see the first reference to it: lechem panim (לחם פנים). We usually see it translated as the “bread of the presence,” which itself seems a clear precursor to the Eucharist, but the actual translation of the Hebrew is the bread of the faces. When this bread is present, God is present.  How could that be? I don’t know. The bread of the thanksgiving offering was not the Eucharist, but somehow there is a presence, there is the face of God.

In today’s reading from the Old Testament, Elijah runs out of gas. He’s defeated all of Jezebel’s prophets of Ba’al, and now she is coming for him. He runs to the point of exhaustion to Mt. Horeb, plops himself down by a broom tree and asks God to take his life from him. Elijah is definitely not himself. Perhaps he needs a Snicker’s bar.

The Lord sends an angel who wakes Elijah and prompts him to eat from a hearth cake and drink from a jug of water. Elijah then gets up and walks forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God. That’s some cake—don’t you wish you could just pop into 7-11 and grab a 960-hour Energy Cake?

Again, what is it? This is no ordinary food.

All of these images point forward to something greater than mere bread and wine and greater than an empty symbol. Jesus Himself points to something more when He teaches the words of the Our Father or the Lord’s Prayer to His disciples in Matthew 6:11: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Many scripture scholars have a problem with the translation of daily bread. St. Jerome thought the Greek word—epiousion—meant something that is more than what we need to sustain ourselves for a day or even a lifetime. It is the source of our eternal life.

Here’s the thing. The Old Testament always points to greater truths in future revelation. The New Testament always points back to signs in the Old Testament to attest to their truth. That is why St. Augustine said, “The New Testament is latent in the Old; the Old Testament is patent in the New.”

In our gospel reading today, Jesus has just called Himself “the bread that came down from heaven,” and the Jews murmur against Jesus, saying, “How can he say ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

“Stop murmuring among yourselves,” He responds. He’s not being gentle or cautious. Then He says something next that really blows their minds. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Those are bold words, and we know from the rest of the passage that it was too much for many of His followers to take. In verse 54, He says, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” but the word for eat here is more intense—trogein. It means “to gnaw” or “to chew.” He intensifies His language with each repetition. And the response from His disciples is telling. They couldn’t accept this hard saying, which they took quite literally. And make no mistake about it: Jesus wasn’t speaking figuratively or symbolically. He meant what he said. They couldn’t accept his words, which means that they couldn’t accept the Word, Christ Himself. They would not let themselves be nourished by Him so that they could run the race as to finish, as St. Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians.

We need to be fed. We need to be fed spiritually to sustain ourselves when our faith wanes or when we become weary of witnessing to the truth. We need to be fed—not just on hearth cake and water, which was substantial enough for Elijah. We need to be fed on the Word Himself, Jesus Christ, the living bread. Elijah’s hearth cake enabled him to walk for forty days through a desert. What, then, could we do after being fed on Christ’s Body and Blood if we let it work in us? What do we do now when we come to the supper of the Lamb? Are we filled with Christ, or are we simply engaging in a symbol that doesn’t affect us after we walk out those doors? What is the point of having this living bread if it doesn’t inform and transform our lives, if it isn’t the life within us?

In a few minutes, we are going to come to the supper of the Lamb—not just to eat the Lamb’s supper, but to eat of the Lamb Himself. Paul says in the Letter to the Ephesians that we are not to grieve the Holy Spirit; that we need to be cleansed of bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and malice; that we must be kind, compassionate, and forgiving—imitators of Christ. We are to be what we have eaten—and not just here and now but out there in the world. We need to be bread to the world, to take the Bread of Life in word and deed to others. To take the Bread of Life in word and deed doesn’t mean, as James says, just to tell the poor to be warm and be fed It means that we are to feed them and to clothe them and to pray for them and sometimes to correct them. The Living Bread gives us life. And we can squander it here, or we can take it out into the world and be Christ’s hands and feet. Which do you plan to do?

Before I close, I do want to address another matter: the matter of corruption in the Church. There have been unsettling facts about people in the Church hierarchy coming to light, and we know from our own local experience that there have been people in the Church who have let us down, have betrayed us, and have harmed us physically and emotionally. We need to pray that all instances of such behavior come to light so it can be rooted out. Make this one of your daily prayers. But I also want to encourage you not to put your faith in individuals in the Church, however inspiring they might be. People will let you down. Our bishops, priests, and deacons will let you down. I will let you down. Do not put your faith in us but in the only one who saves, Christ Our Lord.

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You are a prophet—Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

Amos 7:12–15; Eph. 1:3–14; Mark 6:7–13

Did you know that you were anointed priest, prophet, and king? Your baptism and confirmation join you to Christ—who is priest, prophet, and king—which makes you a partaker in those three offices: priesthood, kingship, and prophecy. Now, while you don’t see this phrase “priest, prophet, and king” in scripture, you do see these offices exercised by Jesus. And the Catechism tells us that we share in these offices with Him (CCC 897-913). We’re going to talk a bit today about our role as prophet.

You share Christ’s office as prophet. By prophet, I don’t necessarily mean someone who predicts future events but someone who is configured—that is enabled—to see and speak the Truth. Through your baptism and confirmation and with proper formation in the faith, you are given the ability to see, hear, and speak the truth about the faith and you have the right, with proper formation, to give your opinion about matters of faith so long as you do so with consideration for the common good and dignity of persons—that is, that you consider what is true, what is kind, and what is necessary. That’s from paragraph 907 of the Catechism.

So you are a prophet! That’s the good news. The bad news is that everyone seems to hate prophets. No, seriously. Look throughout scripture, and you won’t find a true prophet of God that is welcomed by the people to whom he is sent. The Book of Amos is a great example, especially for those who are prophets and don’t know it. Just look at our first reading. Amaziah, the chief priest at Bethel tells Amos to go somewhere else to prophesy, suggesting that Amos is trying to profit from being a prophet, no pun intended.

But Amos says, hey, this isn’t my job! “I’m a shepherd and tender of sycamores.” A sycamore in the near and middle east is not like the ones we have in the US. They actually produce fruit. Amos tended sheep and farmed produce from sycamores. So Amos was someone who produced food for people, and that’s an important calling. But God called him to something else. He was called from his profession to deliver a message. That is the role of a prophet—to deliver a message and to proclaim the truth. A hired prophet, like one Amaziah considered Amos, just delivers the message of the one who pays him or her. But Amos makes it clear that he is not a professional. He is a lay person called to bring the truth to light.

In that sense, Amos is no less like you or me, lay or clergy. We are all called by our common baptism to be prophets. And that doesn’t mean anything more profound than being willing to speak the truth. In Christ we are chosen, in accord with God’s will, for a purpose. And we are universally called to holiness. Holiness is not just something for those extraordinary few, for saints, for clergy and religious. We are all supposed to strive for holiness, which is befitting for our enablement as priest, prophet, and king. And if we are to pursue holiness, we must pursue the truth, however unpopular it might be. I don’t think I need to tell you how much the world hates the truth right now. What we get mostly is truthiness: someone’s agenda, whether it’s on the left or the right. We cannot get the truth from the world! We can get facts from the world. We can get opinions from the world. But truth is not something worldly. Truth only comes from God.

As usual, the gospel reading presents the model, the way forward for the faithful. Jesus has already called the Twelve, and I can imagine they’re thinking it will be so great! They’ll be the emissaries of the Anointed One! The Prophet predicted by Moses! James and John even hoped that they would sit at His right and left sides. But that is not what it means to be the prophet of the Lord. That is not what it means to be a follower of Christ. Jesus Himself tells us that following Him leads to the cross, to trial, and to suffering. Which means that if we choose this way, it will not be a walk in the park.

So why is it that we so frequently hear something different from Christians? Why do we hear something other than the cross? Some Christian sects teach that being poor or sick or otherwise in adversity is a sign that you lack faith. You’ve probably heard of what is called the prosperity gospel—name it and claim it. This message is a favorite of many well-known televangelists. But there’s a problem with this way of thinking. It’s not what the gospel promises us. The gospel promises us rejection, discomfort, and sometimes outright persecution.

But, of course, it’s more than that. Jesus says in Matthew 11:30: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” How is it that the burden will be light amidst these trials? How is a yoke easy? [How many of you know what a yoke is? A yoke is a collar that is used to hitch an ox or horse  to a plow. You can also have a yoke for a team of oxen or horses—that is, two oxes or two horses.] But Jesus says that his yoke is easy. That’s because Jesus’ yoke is for two, and he’s the other part of our team. Jesus doesn’t give his yoke to us to bear. Jesus shares his own yoke with us.

And recall, the Apostles have already been with Him through many of His encounters with the sick, the possessed, the dying, or those who have already died. They have heard his Sermon on the Mount. They understand that the adversity they encounter now pales in comparison to the glory of what will be in the kingdom to come. They are not focused on the here and now but what will be. They are not clinging to the moment but focused on the prize.

And they know that Jesus is with them. That God is with them. That’s what Immanuel, one of the titles of Jesus, means: God with us. His name Jesus, or Yeshua, means God’s salvation. His very name is salvation. His name saves.

And He is here to live with us, to slog through the joy and pain in this life with us, to experience life with us. So the burden is light because He walks with us always. He is yoked to us. He pulls the plow along with us, and no doubt, He bears most of that burden.

Amos in our first reading and the Apostles in our gospel reading know that they have nothing without God. God sends Amos, a shepherd and dresser of Sycamores to Israel, with no credentials as a prophet. The Apostles—a motley assortment of fishermen, tax collectors, and political zealots—are sent to preach the good news, to cast out demons, and to cure the sick. They know that none of this comes from their own power, and they know that they are utterly dependent on God. But they also know God’s promise. They may have to undergo adversity and persecution, but they will also encounter the joy of letting God work through them.

And we can experience that same joy by allowing Jesus Christ to shine through us. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, the joy we experience is merely the first installment of our inheritance. It is the tip of the iceberg of what God intends for us.

So let’s start here with the Eucharist that we celebrate here today—our offering of thanksgiving. Filled with its grace, let’s take Jesus out into our world, a world that so badly needs His gift of salvation. Jesus will be with us, sharing our burden as we share our joy.

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Spiritual Warfare—Fatima Benediction and Rosary: July 13, 2018

The message in this evening’s gospel reading is rather sobering. Jesus is sending His disciples out to preach the good news, to heal the sick, and to cast out demons. He tells them to take nothing with them—no money, no extra clothing, no food. They are expected simply to trust that they will be provided what they need. And then the clincher: “I send you out as sheep among the wolves.” And it’s not just here! The Beatitudes largely tell us how we will be blessed in adversity. We’re told that we must pick up our cross and follow. St. Paul exhorts us in the first chapter of Colossians to complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

If you’re expecting your life as a Christian to be a tame affair, consider those words right from the mouth of our savior. You will be persecuted. You will be hated. There are some preachers who push the notion of prosperity as a sign of God’s favor, but Christ says nothing of the sort. If you seek salvation, climb right up here on this cross with me.

In the Diocese of Boise, we’re getting the message loud and clear. We have scandals in our parishes. We have division within parishes. We have priests suffering from physical injuries and mental and emotional illness. We are beset on all sides. We are in a time of spiritual battle.

And that means that we are doing something right. We are creating a threat to Satan large enough that he has to throw everything he has against us. And he is doing it. So we need to use the weapons we have at our disposal: the Rosary, our other sacramentals like the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and most of all, the sacraments themselves. They are the armor that prepares us for battle.

Brace yourself. We are seeing the beginning of what will be a chastisement but also a great cleansing. And we need to be willing to deal with the scorn of those who don’t understand our faith. We are sheep among wolves, and we need to be as shrewd as serpents. But the Holy Spirit will supply, if we have faith.

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