I saw this beautiful tree on a walk recently and thought: What a tangled up mess that tree is. It’s like it started growing with branches going every which way and now it’s stuck. I can relate.
I think a lot of you can relate too. Being stuck. I’m talking about having a bundle of worries, and thinking about them a lot, and then being mad at yourself for thinking about them a lot, until now you’re a tangled mess. Then the mess festers. Suddenly this tree is like looking in a mirror.
Yet the tree is somehow beautiful it its complexity. It makes me want to pause and look at how the branches could even go in the direction they do. It makes a cool, creaky sound when the wind blows, because of the branches rubbing together.
So I’ve tried to develop a practice over Lent to help with my tangles. Maybe somebody out there will find it helpful.
When I find myself in this cycle of blah, I ask for a blessing on it. Right there in the middle of it. I picture these hands coming over the mess and blessing it. Just as it is. Not fixing it. Not making it pretty. Just making it holy somehow. How could this mess of a mood be made holy? I don’t really know how grace works, but there it is. The blessing makes the mess easier. More comfortable to be with. I can smile at it. And there’s a sense of no longer being alone in it. After sitting with the blessing over the mess, it’s a more airy space. It suddenly feels more gentle, and I can lean into a right way of being again. It’s like the love must be felt before I can move forward. The funny thing is, the love was there the whole time.
So next time you are feeling overcome with uncertainty, worry, angst, ickiness…try picturing the hands of the Holy Spirit blessing all of it. The worries may remain – like the tree – but you will be accompanied. You will find an ease. Simple love. And maybe a way through.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord,” Jeremiah 29: 11-14.
Fr. Bob’s homily 3rd Sunday of Lent…
3rd Sunday of Lent C
Last time I was on the Journey Retreat I gave a shorter sermon than normal and I received shockingly, and disturbingly, few complaints so I thought I would try it again.
The Baptismal Rite for infants begins with an interesting question. What name do you give your child? It is not because the priest might have forgotten or that we do not have adequate paperwork. (The Church might not get everything right, but no one doubts we are good at paperwork.) It is because this is the beginning of a relationship between God and the child. And like any relationship it starts with a name. “Hi, my name is …”
But it meant more than that in the culture in which the Church began. We think of names as an identifier, something to differentiate one from another. You call me Bob so you do not…
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Paul is Christ-centered.
Paul believes Christ has died for our sins. Moreover, God raised Jesus from the dead. Those who confess that Jesus is Lord and place their trust in him will be saved. Jesus is the image of God; Jesus is the Son of God (There is no Trinitarian theology yet.), (Powell’s Introducing the New Testament, p, 248-249). And so we see everything Paul lives, breathes, writes, proclaims and dies for…is Christ. How can we make Christ our center? What would that look like for us?
Paul’s view of Salvation
Paul reminds us that what has happened through Jesus is the launching of a new creation. The messianic events of Jesus and the spirit are not simply another religious option, a new twist on an old theme. If anything, the creator God has called TIME! on the old creation and has launched a new one in the middle of it. No wonder the new reality is uncomfortable (NT Wright’s Paul, A Biography, p. 158). And so God’s plan had always been to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Jesus, which meant, from the Jewish point of view, that Jesus was the ultimate Temple, the heaven-and-earth place. This, already accomplished in his person, was now being implemented through his spirit. Paul always believed that God’s new creation was coming, perhaps soon. But the present corrupt and decaying world would one day be rescued and emerge into new life under the glorious rule of God’s people (p. 401-402). In this way, salvation is NOW and TO COME!
Because of his own profound life experiences, Paul knew that he was not saved by the law or by his scrupulous, self-righteous fulfillment of the Law. He found in Jesus Christ a God who accepted him and called him while he was yet a sinner – and empowered him to live an entirely new life – a life in Christ Jesus. So Paul is again our example-living a saved life right into eternity.
On the cross, God shares in our destiny and takes residence with us; and in doing this, God reconciles us with Godself. Paul’s basic statement is that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Godself. In and through Jesus, God shares in our human fate, our human destiny. God becomes vulnerable and takes the brokenness of the world and our lives into God’s very self. When God takes our brokenness, up to the point of death, into God’s self, it means not the end of God but the end of death, (John Dwyer’s “That We May Live in Joy and Die in Peace: God’s Gift on the Cross of Christ). What does reconciliation mean to you? How do we live as reconcilers?
“Reconciliation” is the Greek legal term used of husband and wife (see I Cor. 7:11). But Paul applies it to the process of salvation here. God is the agent of reconciliation, and we are reconciled. Christ is the means, which is extended to the world. By being reconciled, we become a new creation, the holiness of God, (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 722-723). From the Catechism #460, “The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’:78 ‘For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.’79 ‘For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.’80 ‘The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods., 81” . Do you hear a sense of oneness in these descriptions? The Trinitarian relationship Father/Son/Spirit have with each other is one that we are invited to enter into. We are called to join in the divine dance!
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21
For context: When Paul was in Ephesus, he got word of problems in Corinth and so wrote 1 Corinthians. After that, things got messy. Paul had said he was going to take a trip to Macedonia and then visit the Corinthians on his way back to Ephesus. He changed his mind and decided to visit Corinth on his way to Macedonia as well. Perhaps he caught them unawares; in any event, it didn’t go well. He had some kind of confrontation, something that later he would claim actually hurt the entire congregation (2 Cor 2:5). Paul left in a huff and canceled his plans to visit them on the return trip, so he wrote a letter which is lost (although some theologians think it is actually segments of 2 Corinthians). This letter repaired the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians and they repented, so Paul wrote them again, which is most likely most of what 2 Corinthians is (Powell, p. 294-298).
The word ambassador in Greek is presbeutes. It was a person that was directly commissioned by a king or ruler. Paul is using it here to help us understand that we are commissioned to bring God’s terms of mercy and love to sinners so that they can be welcomed into the family of God. (Preaching Resources, March 2004)
“An ambassador from any country is always conscious of the fact that he has a tremendous responsibility because he is the representative by whom his country is going to be judged. And to us is given the privilege and responsibility of being the representatives of the Son of God in this world. We stand for him, people judge him by what they see in us, and they are perfectly entitled to do so because we are the ones through whom and in whom he is glorified. Do we, I wonder, always realize this?” Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a Welsh Protestant Minister.
As new creations in Christ we are to offer to others the same love and forgiveness that has been offered to us. Selfishness and self-righteous attitudes do not lead to joy, to celebration. Such a lonely road leads to isolation and misery. (From “Exploring the Sunday Readings”, March 2010) But being a new creation is not an assured possession! It is something that must constantly be worked at. To renew that status is the work of the apostolic ministry – the “ministry of reconciliation,” as Paul calls it (liturgy.slu.edu, March 14, 2010).
This image is “Conversion on the Way to Damascus” by Carvaggio. People often picture this artwork when reading about Saul/Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ. However, there is no horse mentioned in scripture, and it wasn’t a conversion from Judaism to Christianity. Revelation may be a better word. For everything Paul knew and understood as a learned, Jewish man became fulfilled in Jesus. There was no “Christianity”. There was “The Way”. Paul had no goal of turning away from Judaism and starting a new religion. Instead, he saw Jesus as God’s continuously unfolding plan for Israel’s salvation. Jesus is the new covenant God is making with all people (U.S. News & World Report 4/5/99, “Reassessing an Apostle”, p. 54).
From NT Wright’s Paul, A Biography:
“For Paul, what mattered was that Israel’s God, the creator of the world, had done in Jesus the thing he had always promised, fulfilling the ancient narrative that went back to Abraham and David and breaking through ‘the Moses barrier,’ the long Jewish sense that Moses himself had warned of covenant failure and its consequences…At the heart of Paul’s message, teaching, and life was radical messianic eschatology.
Eschatology: God’s long-awaited new day has arrived.
Messianic: Jesus is the true son of David, announced as such in his resurrection, bringing to completion the purposes announced to Abraham and extended in the Psalms to embrace the world.
Radical: Nothing in Paul’s background had prepared him for this new state of affairs (p. .130).
But now the big question: Did one need to become a Jew first to become Christian? Jewish law required keeping the Sabbath, eating certain foods, being circumcised, etc. What are the Gentiles to do? This is what a lot of Paul’s letters deal with, and this caused great debate not only in these communities but also among the original disciples of Jesus.
Doctrine of Justification
Also by NT Wright: “God will put the whole world right at the last. He has accomplished the main work of that in Jesus and his death and resurrection. And, through gospel and spirit, God is now putting people right, so that they can be both examples of what the gospel does and agents of further transformation in God’s world. This is the heart of Paul’s doctrine of justification…It isn’t about a moralistic framework in which the only question that matters is whether we humans have behaved ourselves and so amassed a store of merit (“righteousness”) and, if not, where we can find such a store, amassed by someone else on our behalf. It is about the VOCATIONAL framework in which humans are called to reflect God’s image in the world and about the rescue operation whereby God has, through Jesus, set humans free to do exactly that, (p. 407-408).
Because of his own profound life experiences, Paul knew that he was not saved by the law or by his scrupulous, self-righteous fulfillment of the Law. He found in Jesus Christ a God who accepted him and called him while he was yet a sinner – and empowered him to live an entirely new life – a life in Christ Jesus. For Paul, faith is that response to this free gift offered to us by God. Like all gifts it cannot be forced. It is a matter of life for those who now live in Christ. It reconciles us with God by accepting his love and trusting it with our lives. And it empowers us to be reconciled to each other – and to be ambassadors of reconciliation for others.
2nd Reading – I Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12
Paul’s community in Corinth was under a great deal of pressure because of the temptations and lures of the culture’s religious and intellectual oddities. People were succumbing to pagan influences. The Corinthians, like their ancient counterparts, were beginning to take God’s gifts for granted. Some believed that baptism and eucharist were all that was necessary for salvation. Paul referred to the OT identifying story of exodus to set the record and beliefs straight. Sacramental grace cannot substitute for the believer’s cooperative efforts at good living and loving service (Birmingham, W&W, 143).
Paul’s statement about the “rock that was following them” (v.4) refers to the Jewish tradition that the rock that Moses struck (Exodus 17:1-6) became mobile and traveled with them furnishing a steady supply of life-giving water. (This was a widely known legend.) Paul, of course, sees this rock as Christ, our source of life-giving ‘water’ – grace. Yet, Paul also reminds us that God’s graces and gifts are not automatic assurances of salvation. Rather, God challenges and invites, but we need also to cooperate with God’s Spirit. It’s not magic(Celebration, March 2001).
God wants “spiritual fruit” not “religious nuts”! Each of us is asked to be a good steward of our own gifts and abilities. But it’s more than just doing works. In our zeal to do good works we may go “nuts” and overdo it. It’s not about how many committees, meetings and work parties we fit into our life. God seeks spiritual fruit from us. We are asked to discover the ‘buried treasure’ of God’s presence within us. We may need to slow-down – notice the burning bushes in our lives. Let us take time to touch Holy Ground and hear the voice that speaks from deep within the ‘burning bushes’ of our lives. This kind of prayer can cultivate and fertilize. Then, we will not be blinded by harsh daylight, and fail to see the God-light all around us. (Celebration, March 2004)
Fr. Bob’ homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent…
2nd Sunday of Lent C
Jesus, Moses and Elijah go up a mountain sounds like the beginning of a great joke but indeed is the story of the Transfiguration. It is a moment of stunning glory, an affirmation of the highest order of Jesus’ mission. It is meant to sustain the apostles in hope as they are about to make that fateful and dangerous journey to Jerusalem. For us, it is a flash of Easter glory in the midst of our Lenten sojourn. Heaven invaded earth on top of the mountain.
Imagine the shock it must have been for Peter, James and John when they finally woke up. (They do seem to be a sleepy bunch throughout the Gospels.) They see Jesus their friend with the two great leaders of their faith. They crane their necks to hear what they are talking about. It is one topic summarized in…
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From What Paul Meant by Garry Wills:
Paul’s writings were almost always “fired off to deal with local crises”, dictating them to “answer problems or refute opponents”. We see Paul writing and “thinking under pressure” and the outcome is a sort of “lava-flow of heated words”. He is not a cool detached philosopher, but an “embattled messenger” as well as “a mystic and a deep theologian” – a “man busy in many fronts, often harried, sometimes desperate”.
Paul’s letters are the earliest part of the New Testament – all written 25-50 years before any of the gospels. They were probably written about 20 years after the death/resurrection of Jesus. There are 13 letters relating to St. Paul:
Undisputed Letters of Paul:
- 1 Thessalonians
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 2 Thessalonians
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
Paul describes himself as, “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” (Philippians 3:4-6). What is the source of this zeal, which we feel so much in his letters?
From Paul, A Biography by N.T. Wright: Paul was raised studying the Torah, wearing the tefillin on his arms and head. Tefillin were small, leather boxes containing key scripture passages that were strapped on as Moses had commanded all male Jews to do when praying the morning service (p. 27). We lived and breathed his faith, and learned early on that it was God’s people against the rest of the world. Outsiders were considered a threat. One must strive for righteousness. The Hebrew word for righteousness is tzedaqah, or more closely translated as a committed, covenanted relationship. There is a covenant between God and God’s people to be bonded. Zeal was the outward badge of the unbreakable relationship (p. 31).
So when Paul met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, this zeal was challenged AND channeled in a new way.
- Challenged in that ALL people are God’s people now, not just the Jewish people.
- And channeled in that it is ALL for Jesus. Paul is the Messiah Man!
His zeal is read throughout all of his letters.
2nd Reading – Philippians 3: 17 — 4:1
- A prominent town in the Roman province of Macedonia
- The Via Egnatia is the road constructed by the Romans in 2nd Century BC. Paul would have used this road when leaving Philippi to Thessalonica.
- Agricultural plains and gold mines nearby. On those plains Oct 42 BC Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius (slayers of Julius Caesar). Octavian made Philippi a Roman colony.
- Mimicked Rome in having forums, theaters and coinage inscriptions.
- Strategic site in all of Europe. There is a range of hills which divides Europe from Asia, east from west and just at Philippi there is a dip into a pass. That city commands the road (Barclay, p.3)
- First “church” on European soil, birthplace of Western Christianity (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 346).
- 100 years later, Polycarp speaks of the firmly rooted faith of the Philippians (Brown, An Intro to the New Testament, p. 484).
This is written probably when Paul was in prison. How does knowing this affect our understanding of Paul’s words? What meaning does this reading have for you?
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, March 2001 and 2007:
When Paul talks of the “enemies of the cross” he is warning the people of those who would come to take their faith in Christ away – those religious leaders who still insist on being saved by religious, ritual law – dietary laws (“their God is their stomach”) and circumcision (“their glory is in their shame[ful parts]”. They are so caught up in the letter of the law that they miss its spirit – that which gives life. Jesus had said the Sabbath and the laws of religion were created to assist us – to bring life not division.
Today, perhaps, there is another way to understand the ‘god of our stomachs’. Could we see this as a symbol of our yawning hunger for acquisition of every kind? We want, we desire, we wish, and we yearn. We window-shop, surf the Net, and dream of something more . . . greed can often feel like need, but is it? Augustine reminds us that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. May we find ways this Lent to be hungry for the living God, the one who can satisfy us with real food.
Fr. Bob’s homily 1st Sunday of Lent C…
1st Sunday of Lent C 2019
Last week I marveled at how perfectly Jesus understood human nature. This week we meet another character who understands it very well – the devil. He knows what to do to make us succumb to his temptations. The devil goes after Jesus likes he goes after the rest of us. He attacks when Jesus is it at his weakest, when he has been fasting for forty days in the desert. He is hungry, vulnerable and far away from anything or anyone who can help him. But it is not just where and when the devil attacks, but how. He tempts Jesus with those things we all desire – security, power and invulnerability. Give the devil his due, he knows what we want.
After all, who after not having eaten for forty days would not want to point at a rock and turn it…
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Fr. Bob’s homily from 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time…
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
There is a great line in the Gospel of John. “[Jesus] did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” (John 2:25) Stories as in today’s Gospel today prove it. Isn’t it remarkable that Jesus could speak in a time so long ago in a culture so different from ours and the words still ring true and describe us so well? Like a great piece of art, his insight his timeless.
This is apparent in that snippet of a parable of the man with a wooden beam in his eye who attempts to remove a small splinter in the eye of his brother. Now this is understandably hyperbole, for no one walks around with a whole wooden beam in his eye. But in another sense, we know that guy. We know the gravely injured person who walks around…
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Let us pray…
Glorious St. Paul,
most zealous apostle,
martyr for the love of Christ,
give us a deep faith,
a steadfast hope,
a burning love for our Lord,
so that we can proclaim with you,
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Help us to become apostles,
serving the Church with a pure heart,
witnesses to her truth and beauty
amidst the darkness of our days.
With you we praise God our Father:
“To him be the glory, in the Church and in Christ, now and forever.” AMEN
(*dates are educated guesses, approximations taken from The Lost Gospel of Paul and The Word Made Flesh by John C. Dwyer, and N.T. Wright’s Paul, A Biography)
1-10AD: Paul was born, probably in Tarsus to a conservative Jewish family (a strict, committed Jew, but a Jew of the diaspora –meaning outside Jerusalem). He knew and understood Greek culture and philosophy, but was also immersed in Jewish thought and scriptures. He was apprenticed and practiced tent-making. So, he lived when Jesus lived, but he did not “know” him until after the Resurrection.
33AD: Paul “met” the risen Christ on his way to Damascus. Read Galatians 1: 11 – 24 for Paul’s own account of this encounter. To see it today, look up “Straight Street” in Damascus on Google Earth! He stayed in Damascus a short while, and then went into Arabia, the area SE of Damascus – partly desert, partly fertile with some cities. What he did there is unknown, but he may have gone to Mt. Sinai as a calling (like Elijah). He then returned to Damascus
36AD: Paul went to Jerusalem for 15 days where he met Peter (Cephas) and James, the brother of Jesus. Then Paul went back to Tarsus. For the next 10-ish years, we are not sure where Paul was or what exactly he was doing. We might assume he did a lot of praying and reflecting on his theology, and eventually preaching in Antioch. Somewhere in the 40’sAD, Barnabas comes to visit him (maybe to check in on the stir he may have been causing).
46-48AD: 1st Missionary Trip to and from Galatia. Paul writes Galatians.
48-49AD: The “Council of Jerusalem” – read Galatians 2: 1 – 10-Paul and Barnabas present to James, Cephas (Peter) and John, “remuted to be pillars,” the gospel that he preached to the Gentiles – that they were not to be enslaved by the Jewish dietary laws or circumcision. They shook hands and agreed that Paul should “add nothing” to this – thus “faith in Christ Jesus” became definitively open to the Gentile world. However, it did not end nice and neat…Barnabas and Paul return to Antioch-perhaps with Titus-but there were mixed messages being preached. It may have been that the “pillars” felt okay with Paul speaking this way in Antioch, but they still held their Jewish beliefs in Jerusalem (especially Peter).
49-51AD: 2nd Missionary Trip to Greece. Paul writes I Thessalonians and visits Corinth.
52-53AD: Paul in Jerusalem, Antioch; 3rd Missionary Trip to Ephesus. Writes I Corinthians.
53-54AD: Short, painful visit to Corinth.
55-56AD: Imprisonment in Ephesus. Writes Philippians, Philemon.
56-57AD: Released from prison, travel from Ephesus to Corinth, writes 2 Corinthians and Romans.
57AD: Travels from Corinth to Jerusalem. Riots and prison.
From here, he may have gone to Rome, maybe shipwrecked in Malta on the way. There could have been further travels in Spain or to the east. Early tradition holds that both Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome under the Nero persecution of Christians in the early 60s.
A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (10: 8 – 13)
Faith needs to be both deep within our hearts AND spoken out loud by our lips. What did this mean to these early Christians?
To be ‘justified’ means to be in right relationship with God. To trust that our God claims us as his own. This free gift of God’s acceptance is just that – free, un-won, unmerited. In Jesus we find a God who assures us that his justice is filled with love. It is in responding to this love and acceptance – faith – that we find true life and power – a power that can live even beyond our own handicaps and deaths. (John C. Dwyer, The Lost Gospel of Paul, 43+)
Paul’s message is clear: in order to become transformed, all one needed to do was embrace the message of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit, then would slowly begin the process of transformation. (W&W, Birmingham, 126)
Paul insisted that Jesus died once and for all people. It was a complete act of gratuitous, unmerited, unconditional love. The response to such love can be nothing less than the complete offering of one’s entire life to the God who loves so greatly. Human beings are justified by faith, not by observance of the law or by their own merits. It was a difficult message to accept. Justification through the law was ingrained in the people’s consciousness and history.
This is seen in Vatican II! “Following the desire and command of Christ, the Church makes a serious effort to present the Gospel to the whole world so that people can share in God’s love. Everyone who is baptized is charged with this mission. The Church works and prays diligently with great hope that everyone in the whole world will ultimately join together as the People of God, “ (Vat II in Plain English: The Constitutions, p. 38).