Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
7th Sunday of Easter B
I have lived in this town for eleven years which means I have been inundated with engineers and those who analyze things for a living. It changes a guy. And I am a better person for it. I have come to appreciate precision in all things. I am far more rational and evidence based than before. And I have come to appreciate that the greatest enemy in the world is inefficiency. You know what I mean. So many of you are either there or married to someone who is.
Yet the great irony of all this is that we are gathered here by the least efficient agent possible. Love. Love is out-sized, sloppy and impossible to control. It distorts proportion and perspective. There is no such thing as a small achievement for a loved one or a small wound to a loved one. When you…
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Let us pray with Hildegard of Bingen:
Making life alive, moving in all things,
You are the source of all creation and beings.
Cleansing the world of every impurity,
Forgiving guilt, anointing wounds, glistening,
You are commendable. You are Life.
You awaken and reawaken everything that is. AMEN
The Hebrew word ruah, the Greek pneuma, and the Latin spiritus all basically mean “air in motion,” “breath,” or “wind.” The root word is power. Apart from human and animal power, wind was the main observable energy source in the ancient world. Wind was seen as the ‘breath of God – our own breath coming from that life-giving Breath. It is also interesting to note that in the ancient understanding of wind and water and fire – and thus spirit – we find them possessing what we consider to be properties of liquids. Thus we have the idea of the spirit being poured out. (The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, John Pilch, p. 88-89)
1st Reading: Acts 2: 1-11
Pentecost (50 days since Passover; 7 weeks since planting time) originally was an agricultural feast of thanksgiving for the 1st grain harvest. Later, it came to be also a celebration of the gift of the Law to Moses on Sinai. Because it was the second of Judaism’s three major feasts, Jews from all over Palestine and the Greek territories (the Diaspora) would have traveled to Jerusalem. Luke wants us to notice how this diverse group is the perfect place for the Spirit to be present in power. (Celebration, May 2002)
Luke is also telling us this Pentecost story in such a way as to remind us of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John the Baptist had promised that the Messiah would baptize “with the holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3: 16). Here we see that the fire comes in tongues giving courage and meaning and understanding to the gift of speech. In many ways this story is the reversal of the Babel story in Genesis 11: 1-9. At Babel, sin (self-importance and false pride) had brought confusion and defeat. Now with the power of God’s Holy Spirit we see a new universal outreach characterized by mutual understanding and respect. Also where there was fear and inaction, there is now new energy and boldness that is rooted in faith in the God of Jesus. This Holy Spirit is still available today; we also need this ability to understand each other despite differences. Luke’s writing to encourage us to be open to the ongoing process of transformation that is Spirit! (Birmingham, W & W Wrkbk Yr A, p. 336; Celebration, May ‘02)
2nd Reading: Galatians 5: 16-25
Here are some thoughts on Paul’s Flesh and Spirit: These terms, flesh and spirit, which are often used to translate the Greek sarx and pneuma, have caused tragic misunderstandings of Paul’s theology. In Romans (8: 6-9), Paul says, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace . . . the flesh is hostile to God . . . but you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit.” Because of such passages and such translations, Paul has often been blamed for seeing the body and sex as sinful, evil. This is unfortunate for it is far from what Paul has in mind when he uses the word, sarx. He does not mean the physical, sexual part of a human. Sarx refers to the WHOLE human as he/she is enslaved to weakness and corruption. (Even when Paul lists sexual ‘sins’ with prominence, he is saying that sexual abuse and misuse are symptoms of the whole person’s disorientation away from God, the true source of life.)
The pneuma, or spirit, on the other hand, is the full human who is open to being influenced by God’s Spirit and charis, saving power. Our whole being “every cell of our body, every moment of our mind is BOTH flesh and spirit.” We are enslaved by the power of sin. Or, we are liberated to grow into the image of God that we are intended to be. If we allow ourselves to trust in our weak and corruptible self or other weak, corruptible selves, we miss living a life in tune with the God revealed in Jesus. As our reading says, we are called to belong to Christ and to live in his Spirit. (P. Tillich, Shaking of the Foundations, 133 and The Eternal Now, 48).
The Gospel: John 20: 19-23
Jesus’ words in this Gospel apply not only to priests or to all believers. As Christians, we are to follow Jesus’ example of forgiveness. How did He treat His friends after they deserted Him? Jesus forgives and brings us into communion with God – Source of all life – powerfully present in all life. Jesus’ Way, Truth, and Life sets us free to BE Christ-in-the-world: As disciples we are called to bear witness to His risen life by breaking the barriers of sin and division in our hearts and communities. True peace can only begin when we each begin to work with the Spirit to create situations around us of justice, dialogue, and truth – situations that lead to peace. The power of Spirit can enlarge and expand our hearts if we allow the Spirit of Jesus to grow within us – to breathe into us the power of forgiveness – the power to welcome others in his name – the power to transform the world one heart at a time – starting with our own. (Celebration, May 2002)
From John Kavaungh, “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu : If Pentecost was the start of the church, it was a birth out of frailty. The believers were huddled in fear behind closed doors. Yet Pentecost unleashed a courageous power. Driven by wind and fire, the followers of Jesus were set loose upon the world to make bold proclamation. The Spirit brought unity, not only in a shared sense of poverty and smallness, but in the common experience of one God in Jesus, one faith, and one baptism. It was a faith that also put believers in touch with their deepest humanity. They would now speak a universal tongue, in a way which could touch the hearts of people from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The unity of faith in Jesus is a subversive power; it overturns any other claim to supremacy. Since Christ is our primary reality, his Spirit is a force that liberates us from any other bondage.
Let us pray, adapted from The Exsultet:
We sing the glories from this pillar of fire, our Easter candle,
The brightness of which is not diminished,
Even when its light is divided and borrowed…
May he who is the morning star find it burning –
That morning star which never sets,
That morning star which, rising again from the grave,
Faithfully sheds light on all the human race.
And on me. AMEN
On the Ascension of the Lord, From Creighton U. Online Ministries:
At some early point in our earthly lives we all learn an inescapable law: “what goes up must come down.” Perhaps it was our childhood playground that taught us this best – a thrilling pull in our bellies as the swing catapults toward the ground; a blast of wind in our face as we rush down the slide; or the exhilarating drop from the highest point of the teeter-totter.
On today’s Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, it behooves us to remember this law. In these final days of the Easter season, we contemporary disciples of Jesus stand beside his first disciples while they work to make sense of the new reality in their lives wherein Jesus has “left” them. As described in the Book of Acts, the disciples are standing heavy-footed, bent-necked, slack-jawed, staring at the sky – perhaps a sense of despair in their hearts.
How many times have I felt abandoned by Jesus? How many times have I looked heavenward asking, “What do you want me to do next?!”
Let us pray:
Lord, our God, you are the Source of all Love.
Consecrate us in the truth and power of your love.
Blink open the eyes of our hearts.
Help us to see how we can offer others a ‘lay-down-my-life’ kind of love.
Only with your Spirit will be able to do so.
Lavish your Spirit-gifts upon us.
Let your Spirit give us the courage to trust
more in your love than in the adversity. AMEN
1st Reading: Acts 1: 15-17, 20a, 20c-26
The line in Acts that comes just before this passage states:
“All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”
So what goes on in this upper room is not just a ‘male thing.’ It is a gathering of those who have known and loved Jesus in life and now through death and into the resurrection. It is a community that has grown out of this lived experience of Jesus. (Preaching Resources, 5/28/06) How might our church be like them and “be a witness to his resurrection”?
It is also important to remember that the number twelve was symbolic of Israel, the twelve tribes of Israel, representing the fullness of the ‘people of God.’ So these Twelve had been appointed by Jesus to be a sign of this ‘eschatological community.’ That is why it was important to select another one to replace Judas who had died. These twelve must also be witnesses to the original saving history of both the earthly Jesus and his resurrection. They become this bridge between the earthly Jesus and the mission of the Church as a whole. The circle of the Twelve and the circle of the apostles (those sent out) sort of overlap. For all disciples are apostles – called to be sent out by Jesus to bring the Good News to the needy – and sometimes hostile – world. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy/slu.edu )
It feels good to be picked out, chosen. Imagine what Matthias may have experienced when he heard the lot fell to him. But we aren’t always picked. Poor Barsabbas. What do you think became of him? Can you think of times when you were like Matthias and Barsabbas? How did it affect your life after?
2nd Reading – 1 John 4: 11-16 and the Gospel – John 17: 11b-19
Let’s look at these readings together for they come out of the same community.
God’s love for us and others compel us to also love one another. This is possible as God abides in those who love. God’s Spirit empowers them — lives in them. This is one of the main themes of the Johannine tradition. It is constantly being repeated. But let not its repetition deaden our ears and hearts to its truth. This mutual indwelling of our God of love is the essence of the saving event we call the Good News of Jesus Christ. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy/slu.edu )
We see Spirit at work through its fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Take time to consider where you see these fruits in your life. Take comfort in knowing Spirit is gifted to us so that God, and God’s love, remains with us.
We are consecrated with God’s truth. What does that mean to you? How does this relate to Mass? It is not only the bread and wine that are consecrated at the table. We are all made holy through the grace of God. We stand in truth, open to that consecration, knowing that we are being strengthened and nourished…so we can be sent forth into the world.
From Karl Rahner:
“Only the one who can be still and pray; only the one who is patient and does not drown out the frightening silence in which God dwells, and which comes to us, with the racket of everyday life . . . only that one can hear with ease and discretely appreciate something of the eternal life that is already inwardly given to us as the indwelling of God in us.”
Let us pray:
Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit,
did instruct the hearts of the faithful,
grant that by the same Holy Spirit
we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations.
Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
6th Sunday of Easter B
“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” What a remarkable and amazing statement. Our relationship with Christ begins not by our initiative, but by God’s. It even seems a little backward. I mean why would you not choose Jesus? He was all-loving, just and peaceful. He spoke the most beautiful words ever uttered, he was the Son of God, he died for our sins and he had great hair! But we are friends of Jesus not for those reasons but because God first chose us.
Sometimes I wonder if God should have known better. I imagine that Jesus would never have chosen me if he knew my faults, limitations and sins. He would never have wanted me if he knew how little trust I have, how selfish I can be or my thoughts as the Mets lost every game…
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Reading 1: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
In Acts 10 the author as a third person reported recounts that happened in Peter’s speech to Cornelius (a pious Roman centurion), the Jewish people and the Gentiles. The big questions were: Were Christians bound by the Jewish rules? Should the Gentiles be received without first becoming Jews (i.e. being circumcised)? This was never resolved in Jesus’ lifetime. It makes one consider how many try to resolve issues today in the church using Jesus’ words and deeds. If Jesus did not solve the most fundamental question of the Christian mission, we may well doubt that his recorded words solve most of our subsequent debated problems in the church (Brown, R., A Once-and-Coming Spirit at Pentecost, pgs. 61-62).
God shows no partiality. The root of all the readings this week (and always with the Word!) is love. How often do we feel completely affirmed to the core of our being? Do we ever get to a point where we have arrived in feeling absolutely loved and accepted for who we are? Are we worthy? We have a deep desire to be loved. Carl Jung said, “What we’re about as humans is a constant and consistent movement toward wholeness.” We are wired to be connected with something that is other and beyond. As St. Augustine said, “My soul is restless until it rest in you, O God.” This love that is God is offered to all, with no partiality.
Reading 2: 1 John 4:7-10
From Creighton University Online Ministries:
I like to think, and I pray God’s fingerprints are on me and the prints I leave behind are just as noticeably God’s prints. For me, leaving behind a trail of God’s fingerprints is not easy, but God’s prints are readily identifiable. It is God who intrudes and rifles my heart. It is God who sets things right. God dwells among us. God dwells in me. God’s fingerprints are everywhere. Just like fingerprints on a window can only be seen in the light, I also have to stand where the light can shine through me. God’s love-ly fingerprints are smeared and permanently stuck to me. How do you leave your love-ly fingerprints?
Gospel: John 15:9-17
We do not earn God’s love, and we do not initiate love and goodness ourselves. Everything comes from God…freely given; we can accept or reject. (At Home with the Word, p. 87) Can you think of times when you have accepted or rejected God’s love in your life? The love in the Trinity is the love that God wants to have with us. It completes the circle. Jesus came to be one with us…completely human. To the point that he calls us His friends. He chooses us. How does that make you feel? This love for one another brings life…IN ABUNDANCE! But what Jesus is telling us isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling…it is a commandment: love one another. Can all of us do that, all the time? “The relationality of the three bonded in the one Love spills over into a relationality with the world, thereby making it possible for human persons to enter into this communion in the one Love, “ (M. Downey, Altogether Gift, p. 60). We are meant to be intertwined with God in God’ Trinity. How do we do that?
1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 9: 26-31
Luke uses the disbelief of the community to stress just how radical Saul’s/Paul’s transformation is. The Lord’s work is revealed through events that ‘upset’ human expectation. As always, Luke presents God as the ultimate Surprise. We as church can have difficulty keeping up with such a God – unless like the gospel suggests we stay rooted in God – and allow God to remain in us. (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 384-385)
For Paul’s version of his conversion and later visit to Jerusalem, read Galatians 1:11-24.
Reflect on the friendship of Paul and Barnabas. The other apostles were afraid of Paul until Barnabas stood up for him. It was after this support that they began to see the change in Paul and be confident enough to send him on to Tarsus (possibly his hometown). Then we learn how the church is built up because of the Holy Spirit. Aren’t these related? When we free ourselves from our fear, it allows the Holy Spirit to work wonders, within us and through us. When we have spiritual friends to stand with us, we are strengthened and nourished in a deeply moving way. Mary DeTurris Poust in Walking Together says, “…when we focus our hearts, minds, and spirits on loving God and serving others….suddenly – or maybe not so suddenly – our innate human inclination to protect and preserve our own well-being starts to open up in a way that reveals a softness, a generosity, a desire to give rather than to get,” (p, 24-25). Do you find this to be true in your life?
2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 18-24
Although this letter can be repetitious and fragmented in many ways, today’s reading has an emerging theme: Christians can be assured of ‘salvation’ if they follow the command to love one another. Our two primary concerns as Christians must be to love the Lord and to love one another. Evidence of our relationship with God, God’s indwelling within us, will be how we live this in our everyday lives. (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 386)
Our life of faith must bear fruit in love and service – words are empty shams and lies when our lives do not live out our words. Love is action that embodies the truth. But we are also assured that God is “greater than our hearts and all is known to God.” This is our hope. God know our sins and weaknesses but also our longings and intentions that go too often unfulfilled. If we can stay united to the Vine and trust this source of life – then all that happens can bring forth good fruit. As Mother Teresa once said , God does not demand our success; God wants our faithfulness. (Celebration, May 2000)
The Gospel – John 15: 1-8
The verb, which is translated “to abide with” or “to stay with” or “to remain”
is used more than 67 times in the Gospel and the Letters of John. Why do you think that this verb was so important? How is it important to you?
The people of Israel saw the vine and its branches as an apt symbol for themselves and their relationship with God. One of the ‘glories’ of the temple was a great golden vine upon the front of the Holy Place. Jesus saw in this image his own relationship with God and with us. Perhaps it was the one sturdy branch which gives life to so many branches or the intertwining of the branches, the gnarled and twisted way in which the vine grows, that spoke to Jesus. Or, perhaps he wanted to remind us that there are many pathways to growth: as united believers we need our share of curves, bumps and detours to produce the Spirit’s fruits. (Celebration, May, 2000)
John’s gospel in this passage is a profound expression of God’s love for his people. Jesus is the ‘sacrament’ of this love: the real, tangible, touchable expression of the Father’s love for us. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth we can come to know the face and care of this God of love. Jesus desires nothing more than that we be united in him as he is with the Father — to “remain in God and God in us.” Jesus is our way home. Jesus reveals God, and the church is called to reveal and be Jesus. We need to live and experience this love in our community, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. Love forgives a multitude of sins. M. Birmingham, W and W rkbk for Year B, 387-388
For a vine regular pruning is necessary in order to achieve maximum fruitfulness. Dead branches must be removed to preserve the vitality of the vine. As this pruning produces new tiny tender green tendrils they reach out in all directions from the vine. Gradually these tendrils develop into sturdy branches that allow the vine to flourish. Henri Nouwen says that this image of the ‘healthy need’ for pruning might help us to gain a new perspective on growth and suffering. With the ‘sap’ of Jesus’ Spirit flowing into us the painful rejections and loneliness and difficulties of our lives can become a means of growth as they prune away that which is not life-giving so that we grow closer to the One who is. (Celebration, May, 2000 & 2006)
Let us pray:
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Though we may struggle in our lives with fear or worry,
we are reminded that you have not left us alone.
For we follow in faith the call of the shepherd
whom you have sent for our hope and our strength.
Attune our minds to the sound of the shepherd’s voice.
Lead our steps in the path shown to us by the shepherd,
that we may know the strength of your outstretched arm
and enjoy the light of your presence forever. AMEN
1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 4: 8-12
Acts show us just how radically Jesus’ followers have been transformed by His risen presence. Before, fear ruled their behavior; now they are courageous. They boldly proclaim Christ crucified and risen; in that process they too enter into the cycle of dying and rising. Only the power of the risen Christ and his Spirit could bring about such a profound change in their lives. (Birmingham, W& W Workbook, 376)
The word for cornerstone in Greek could be more correctly translated as the head of a corner or the capstone or keystone. When building arches, Romans first constructed the two sides of the arch; the last stone to be set in place was the capstone which joined the sides assuring stability and endurance. This capstone was a powerful symbol for Christ for the early Christians. (Celebration, May 2003)
The name of a person is more than just an artificial ‘tag’ to tell one person from another. A name represents the fullness of a person. If we do something in someone’s name, we do it as that person would do it. As a Christian we are to act as Christ, to act in his name. To live this way is to find salvation (fullness of health). Salvation in the name of Jesus is not a ‘magic thing.’ It is a way of life. It is a way of love.
2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 1-2
We are children of God. By nature we are creatures of God, but it is by grace that we are children of God. It is like comparing paternity and fatherhood (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 73-74). It is one thing to be created, and something entirely endearing and intimate to family. We are called into this kind of relationship to God. How do we answer? How does God reveal Godself to you? When you sense this, do you feel more like a child of God? Take some prayerful time to sit with these words and mull the questions.
The Gospel– John 10: 11-18
Imagine the scene. It is first-century Palestine. Each day the shepherd would take his flock out into the desert for the day’s grazing only to return to the sheepfold, a common enclosure with a low stone wall and gated entrance. At day’s end the shepherds would bring their sheep to the fold to keep them safe from the dangers of the night: wolves and thieves. Each night a shepherd was designated to lie down in front of the sheepgate so no one could enter without having to pass him first. He was the protector of the flock – with his very life if need be. Each morning all the shepherds would return to this enclosure. Each shepherd would whistle or call out the names of their sheep. The sheep would know the sound of their own shepherd – they would not respond to anyone else. Their shepherd would then lead them out to safely graze in the pasture; the sheep always followed their shepherd,
Jesus is the model Good Shepherd. He cares for his sheep; they know his voice and respond to his voice. There is ownership. Jesus knows his sheep; he knows them by name. He is in loving relationship with them, willing to lay down his life for their good. We are to know Jesus’ voice and trust him unto death.
The early church adopted this image of shepherd for their leaders also. Like Christ, the leaders were to nourish and safeguard the flock. The word pastor was derived from this image. (Birmingham, W&W Wkbk Yr B, 378- 379)
Let us reflect on this poem Messenger, by Mary Oliver:
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth
and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,
over and over, how it is that we live forever.
So I broke a cross. And I was in the tabernacle area of all places. I had a lot in my hands and was trying to set it all down so I could pray. Plop. Break. My first inclination was to quick get some super glue and fix it. I even wrote myself a note to remind myself to bring it into work:
But then I told my friend, Helen. She laughed and said to leave it. Sit with it for a while. So I did, and now you get to hear about it.
I sat in the tabernacle and stared at the crucifix on the wall. I thought about the Emmaus story, how Cleopas and the other disciple who is unnamed were walking and talking. Jesus started walking with them, but they didn’t know it was him. They started talking to him about how things didn’t go the way they planned. “We had different hopes.” Isn’t that truth? It still gets me. Don’t you know so many people, or experience yourself, having a hope of something going a certain way and it just doesn’t? It can be heart-breaking. It can be a game changer. It can be so hard to allow.
There I sat with my broken cross. I didn’t mean for it to happen, and I wanted to quickly fix it so nobody would ever know. Lots of things can’t be fixed though. We have to sit with the brokenness. we have to see where God might be in it. Like Cleopas and his friend, sometimes things don’t turn out the way we hope, but good still comes from it. They suddenly realized Jesus was with them the whole time. Even though all seemed lost and broken. And they ran back to share the good news.
So I’m going to leave my cross broken and sit with it some more. It’s a good reminder that I don’t have to have everything figured out and put together with super glue. Jesus is with me and all of us in our brokenness. By his grace, good comes anyway.
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
2nd Sunday of Easter B
It seems that Jesus wanted the theme of Eater to be peace. As love was the theme of the Last Supper in John’s Gospel (“No one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for their friends”) and as John emphasized victory in his depiction of the cross, the Easter story is about peace. Three times in the Gospel appearances to the disciples Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” I don’t think he is simply reassuring the apostles because they are freaking out as he just appeared on the other side of locked doors. Well maybe a little. But he also says it after they are already rejoicing. I think it is more than a greeting. I think it is a statement of fact and theology: peace is with them because he has risen from the dead.
Peace is with them because Jesus is…
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