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27th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
I think most of us are aware that there are two stories of creation in the book of Genesis. They do not contradict each other as much as they complement one another. That makes sense. After all, God is too big and the story of creation is too important to be portrayed from one perspective. In the first story of creation, God is powerful and majestic and indeed God is. God says, “Let there be light,” there is light and it is good and that is that. In the second story of we have a portrait of God as intimate and caring, literally getting his hands dirty making Adam out of mud and developing a relationship with him. Both stories are revelatory of a God who is both powerful and intimate. As to which story you prefer, it is a kind of a personality test. If you like order and efficiency, you might be drawn to the first story. If you like chaos and dialogue, the second story fits. You might not be surprised that I am a second story kind of guy.
Look how concerned God is for the man God has made. Man was created out of love and God recognizes that to be complete, the man must have something to love. So God creates everything else to find “a suitable partner” like Edison searching for the right filament. (GE reference!) It is a glorious failure for although the man rejects each living creature as a partner, the world is now populated by all beautiful things. Then with artistic insight, God realizes the man does not need something wholly other, just a little different. So God begins with the man’s rib, for how much similar can you get. And it solves everything. The man exclaims, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This is not just the story of man and woman, it is the story of all of us. We need each other. As Johnny Camarari says in Moonstruck, “God took the rib of a woman and now there is a space that needs to be filled.”
Catholic social teaching has a great word for this – solidarity. We are connected, meant for each other. We are made of the same stuff, the same Spirit, from the same creator. It is why we believe that we can find Christ in anyone because we know we share God as our origin. We sense this in the way we are drawn to our families and then we see it extend to our relatives, friends and communities. Hopefully, we see the bond as so strong that it encompasses everyone, especially the poor, the broken, the struggling in such a way that when anyone is hungry, we feel the pangs; when anyone is a victim, we know their pain; when anyone suffers violence, we carry the scars; when anyone experiences war, we share the horror. I have been around people who are hurting and even dying this week and have thought that the great promise of creation is not that everything works our perfectly. It is that we are there for one another.
So it is troubling when the first promise of creation, this original bond seems so threatened. Yet it is hard to deny that we seem to be dissembling into further and further factionalism. People seem to be seeking out those who belong to their own tribe and limiting their dialogue and understanding to those they agree with. We are having a harder time bridging gaps of understanding and civility. We need a return to a sense of solidarity – to a sense of needing every one.
I know I need you. You are my missing rib. I do not feel complete without you. Let us build on this sense of family because if we cannot have it here, where else will it appear? Let it matter that we share the same parish and profess the same beliefs. Make sure we say hi in the grocery store and wave to each other in the hallway just because we belong here. Let us build a sense of inclusion so strong to ensure this a place where people know they will be trusted, cared for and believed. And pray that the feeling radiates outward until we all grow in recognition of our need for each other again, until we mirror the God who formed each of us by divine hands and made us for each other, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.

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26th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
There are two birds associated with the Holy Spirit. We are all familiar with the dove, ancient Christian art often uses another representation, a wild goose. Those are two very different images. The hovering of the dove is a peaceful and abiding presence, but the wild goose is something else. It speaks of the unpredictability of the Spirit that may be chased, but is rarely caught.
The first reading speaks of the goosiness of the Spirit. A portion of the spirit that enlivened Moses is to be shared with seventy-two people as a cloud descends upon them. Two people do not show up. What they could have been doing that was more important than receiving the spirit from a holy cloud, I have no idea. But it turns out they are prophesying just as the others who were present. Joshua asks if they should be stopped. Moses refuses to silence them. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!”
That is a daring thing to say. Prophets are needed, immeasurably important to our church and the world. But they are also problematic. They are obsessed with the truth. They are persistent and frankly inconvenient. If you want prophets, you will not escape the truth.
So it is understandable that prophets are sometimes resisted. The Church is to express the Holy Spirit, not contain it. However, it is not surprising that sometimes those in power do not want to have such a nuisance as this wild goose of a spirit. You might think that is because we are big and an institution. And we are. But even when the church was as primitive as it could be, when it was just Jesus and his disciples roaming the Galilean countryside, there was tension. A man using Jesus’ name has successfully expelled demons but he is not one of their company and John suggests they stop him. Jesus, who was famously anti-demon, does not intervene, arguing, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” He knows his name when evoked with the Gospel has power and he will not squelch the fire.
That same Holy Spirit lives within you and it produces prophets everywhere. Oh my God do we need prophets. Our Church needs prophets who will speak truth to power, who will set a new vision that heeds the voice of the faithful. And if it appears the ears of the Church are stopped, then shout louder, sing more bravely a new harmony. Our politics need prophets of conciliation and understanding who oppose the screeds of those who care only for leverage and power. We need prophecy in our relationships for without the Spirit, how would we dare to say “I love you” and how would we dare to say a challenging truth to prove that love. We have been dipped in holiness. We were made to be prophets.
But maybe you are thinking that is not me. I get it. When I first thought God might be calling me to priesthood, I was fully aware of all the reasons I should not be a priest. I mean fully aware. But ultimately I trusted in the Spirit. I remember my first time I baptized a child. It was Mark and Marianne’s daughter Emma, and my friends Diana and Fred were there with their first child and I was nervous. Who wants to mess up their first baptism? At the end I asked Fred how I did and he said it was surreal. “It was like Marianne and Mark were pretending to be parents, and we were too and you were pretending to be a priest… and they were all letting us get away with it.”
That feeling never leaves you. How many times have you looked at the board in your classroom and think, “I will never learn this,” yet somehow you master it? How many times have you felt overwhelmed by your job and think you could not handle it, but you do? Did you really feel qualified when you brought you child home the first time? Life seems to call us to grab on to the tail of this wild goose and let it lead us. There is a gap between what we expect of ourselves and what we can really achieve. That gap is filled by grace; it is filed by the Holy Spirit.
We are the confident and blessed people of God. The cloud of holiness did not miss us. Only you have your particular experience, only you know how God’s love has shaped you. You are an unrepeatable miracle and no voice can replace your voice. Only you can tell the story of the Gospel in your life. Only you can be the Gospel in the life of others. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!”

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Jesus has just spoken of being handed over to those who would torture and kill him before he rose from the dead three days later. The incredibly uncurious apostles do not understand and as no questions for their minds seem to be on other things. Jesus hears them talking and when they return home, Jesus asks them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” The Gospel says they remained silent for they had been caught, like teenager caught. I actually imagine it was not quite silence but in a conversation that might seem familiar they mumbled and finally blurted out, “Nothing.”
You see, they were speaking about the worst possible thing at the worst possible time. As Jesus was talking about sacrifice and complete surrender to the will of God, they were arguing about which one of them was the greatest. And you know they were not arguing who was the most selfless because it is self-incriminating to brag about how humble you are. They were preening with pride while Jesus was predicting his humiliation and loss. It would be like if your friend had been laid off and wanted to unburden their fears about supporting the family and you were whispering to one another about how excited you were about an expensive vacation. Not cool.
Jesus of course knows what they are talking about just as parents always seem to know. It is not that he does not need his disciples to be great for he is about to entrust the Gospel to them, But they need to be great according to his understanding of greatness. It must be a greatness directed by selflessness and humility. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
To prove his point, the Gospel relates, “Taking a child, he placed it in their midst.” (By the way, if you want proof the Gospels were written by men, notice how Mark refers to the child as an “it.” Can you imagine a woman doing that?) Why did he illustrate his point with a child? Is it that children are cuter, more innocent or simply better? They might be all those things but I believe the reason he chose a child is because, as we are painfully aware, children are more vulnerable and more needful.
The glory and the heartbreak of parenthood is that children need parents less and less. The arc runs from depending on parents for everything to hoping they may consider your advice. A child is a perfect image for what Jesus wants to project on his disciples for he would have them depend on God the way a child depends on others. “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” The power Jesus calls us to possess is not a monument to our success or to power to manipulate others. It is what he exhibited in his life – to rely only on God.
The other morning while flipping through stations looking for inspiration in the least likely place, cable television, I came upon Joyce Myers, the only evangelical preacher I enjoy. She was saying that when we first become convicted in Christ we feel a stirring of holiness within us and we want to change our lives. She said resist that desire to change. Instead, think of how you will yield to the Holy Spirit. Changing ourselves is simply another moment to make it about us just like the disciples on the road. However, to yield to the Holy Spirit, to depend completely on God, is to rid ourselves of ego and follow the true way of discipleship.
This is the mark of true humility. Humility does not consist of doing something well, having someone compliment you and then saying it was not that good. That is lying. True humility sees everything as a gift from God and refers back to the source in thanksgiving.
Jesus Christ still needs great disciples, now as much as ever. But it must be on Jesus’ terms, not our own. We must be humble, vulnerable and needful of our God. It is the only measure of greatness for Christ.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B

In Mark’s Gospel, miracles are often hard work.  That is not the case in other Gospels such as John’s where it appears Jesus’ mere thought can heal someone.  But in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is physical; he gets into the mud, he touches and transforms.  The difference is like the two stories of creation in Genesis.  In the first, the Lord speaks and light appears while in the second God makes mud and breathes into the man to create Adam.  Mark’s Jesus is more evocative of the second story and the result is a portrait of Jesus that is personal and intimate as in the tale we hear today.

Jesus is moving through gentile territory but the people are still aware of his power.  They bring before him a man who is deaf and suffers from a speech impediment.  Jesus takes him aside, away from the preening crowd, puts his fingers in his ears, spits and touches the man tongue and cries out “Ephphatha!” which means “Be opened.”  It is an interesting word choice and the fact that it is preserved in the Aramaic of Jesus means it must have seemed terribly important to his followers.  It is even a part of the baptismal rite when the child’s ears and mouth are crossed as we pray the Lord will touch the child’s ears to hear his word and his mouth to proclaim his faith.  That is how we are opened.

Be open.  That is pretty good advice for our Church, our nation and ourselves.  For its opposite, to be closed is a curse.  Some of the saddest people I know have the smallest, most closed worlds.  Their life is about surviving, not thriving, and the only measure of success is to go from one harrowing day to the next harrowing day.  They spend their time consumed with the fears and they isolate to preserve themselves from further disappointment.  It is as if they live in a crouch, limiting their field of vision and shortening their horizon.  When you stand up again, all that has changed.  We can see further and include more people.  That is the life of Ephphatha.

So I challenge you to follow the Lord’s command to be open.  Recently I was talking to Kris Rooney, and I mentioned this is the third crisis of the Church since I became a priest.  She asked me what I did the first two times and I said, “I put on 40 pounds.”  This time I would like to try something new.  I want to be open.  I want to check in on more people, encourage them and laugh with them. I want to be a better friend and not allow those quiet sighs of others go unnoticed.  How can you be more open? During this season of creation, can we immerse ourselves in the beauty of God’s creation and see our stewardship as gift?  Advocate for a more open politics of civility where one can disagree but not be shouted down; an open politics that includes everyone.  And let us pray for a new church, open to the sense of the faithful.  Most importantly, each of us can be more open –we can be more hopeful and shrug off the shroud of cynicism.  We can be a better friend and become more concerned with the joys, concerns and struggles and hopes of one another.  We can expand our definition of neighbor to include all.  We can simply love more willingly and urgently.

But don’t forget that Ephphatha is a hard working miracle.  Jesus had to groan as he said the word.  When we are opened and our ears are unplugged and our tongues loosened, we will hear the cry of the poor and know our responsibility to speak a word of justice for them.  We will accompany people in their lives, including their sorrows.  We will be more exposed standing than we would be crouching.  But we have no choice if we are to be a disciple of Jesus Christ for he was always open.  Those arms raised in welcoming to sinner and friend are the same arms extended on the cross.  They are how we are to meet the world.  And it is in those moments that we ultimately are open to beauty.  .  We were baptized for this.  We were made for this.  Ephphatha – Be Open.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Jesus answers the question what defiles us. What makes something designed to be good to produce something bad and sometimes even rotten? How does it happen with our bodies, the Law or the church? I have been spending a lot of time thinking about that question in the last couple of weeks as the crisis in our church had deepened. However complicit I might be as a member of the clergy, I believe I share your anger and frustration. And those feelings are not abstract or theoretical. They are close, personal and intimate. It feels like when you have been hurt by someone or something you love. And there is nothing that wounds quite as deeply than being hurt by love. It is a different experience when it is love. We feel a sense of betrayal. We recognize the potential and all the good that has occurred and it makes the pain more acute, more shocking. And what we love is meant to represent holiness, the highest good, it is even more horrifying.
What has been of comfort to me though are the readings we have heard over the last few weeks. They seem to be speaking directly to our current situation. But perhaps that is always how the word of God works, hitting us at sharp angles when we need it most. Jesus as a pious Jew knew the glory of religion of course, but was just as aware of its pitfalls. The scribes and Pharisees point out that the followers of Jesus are not strictly observing the “tradition of the elders.” But Jesus knew the law was meant to reflect what was happening interiorly. When the emphasis is on the external, people care more about appearance and perception than a conversion of heart. After all, you could keep every rule and still be mired in the muck that defiles.
It reminds me of the church’s problems. I don’t think our leaders who failed by and large were evil men protecting and promoting evil people. But they were concerned about buttressing the status and structure of the church more than protecting those who were grievously abused. George Weigel wrote a telling article reminding us that this is not a new crisis in the church; it is the only crisis the church ever faces. It happens whenever the church focuses on itself and not on Jesus Christ. The church is meant to be the vessel of Christ, not the object of faith. Then the church is like the Pharisee who can get everything “right” and fail in love and justice.
There are times when I wonder whether we should even bother being an evangelizing parish. How can we share the good news when all we ever hear is bad news? But we are baptized. Within each of us is an instilled hope and an ever present light. I believe this is the beginning of the new evangelization. You see, the enemy of evangelization is not bad headlines, but maintenance. When the church is turned inward, concerned more about its place than its mission, it becomes defensive, isolated and arrogant. But that church has failed. What if we were stripped of our power and pretense – what would be left? Just the works of mercy, the “pure religion” St. James speaks of that takes care of widows and orphans, the most vulnerable. What would be left? The word of God that still has the ability to sear us and the sacraments where Jesus still comes to us. What would be left? Nothing but the Gospel, nothing but Christ. It would be a new church.
Dream with me of this new church. What if we did not talk about suffering, but were willing to suffer? What if we did not just offer penance, but were penitential? What if we did not just preach mercy, but begged for it? What if we surrendered our status but never surrendered an inch on justice? What if we welcomed survivors, listened to them and let them show us a new way? What if the shepherds trusted the sheep and the sheep could in turn trust the shepherds? What if we were truly radical, meaning rooted, only in the Gospel and what if our only measure of success was how faithful we were to the Gospel? What if this Church was truly poor, truly holy, truly open and truly Christ’s?
To echo the words of Bishop Scharfenberger, don’t give up. As we always do with our loved ones who have hurt us, don’t give up. Remember and celebrate all the good we do, still support the work that changes lives every day and makes Christ present in the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Don’t give up, but help transform us. Join us on September 13th as we host listening sessions and share suggestions as to what we should do now. Don’t give up, but be the reason we change. Make us stronger. Make us accountable. Make us better.

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
This is the fourth part of my homily series on the Eucharist. The Bread of Life discourse continues for a fifth week, but my reflection next week will be restricted to going to mass and playing golf in Canada. What is left is to ask why the Eucharist so powerful that it can fill our hungers.
I started listing to the cast recording of the musical “Hamilton” and as tends to happen with “Hamilton,” I have become a little obsessed. And there is no better song than “Satisfied” which details the thought that Alexander Hamilton would never achieve satisfaction and it serves as a sub-theme throughout the musical. For all his endeavors, his writing, his success and his astounding career, there was never a moment when he knew contentment. But that is not unique to him. It is really the human condition. We have tremendous energy surging in us, we are roiled in energy. It is true clearly of the young but also true of those who older who tell me that what they regret about physical limitation is that they cannot do more. We will never be satisfied.
It is due to the astounding human capacity – one so great that even God could inhabit humanity. It seems there is no end to our ability to wonder, imagine, change and hope. This energy separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Actually, there is too much energy, far more than we need to eat, walk and breathe and how we spend that energy will define the happiness of our life.
Ron Rolheiser speaks brilliantly about all this in his great book The Holy Longing. He also makes this point: what is the opposite of disease? Not health, but ease. (I know, I cannot believe I had never noticed that before either.)
Dis-ease is not a new problem created by information overload and new technology. It is ancient. Indeed, it is original. It is dis-ease that caused Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. God gave them just about everything, literally building a paradise for them, and they still wanted more. They reached for the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. They wanted to know what God knows and live God’s life. When God discovered their sin, they hid establishing the pattern we follow today. It is why the sin is original. We either try to be God or flee from God. We either judge people or expect them to be as we perceive them as if we created them. We want people to act in a manner that fits our plan and any deviation is seen as an affront. We are trying to be God, although I imagine God’s expectations are more tempered than ours. Or we give up and simply try to spend our immense energy in any way possible, often as we see, with disastrous results. Being God or fleeing God are the two poles we tend toward. And though we may not live at those poles, most every sin can be plotted somewhere along these paths.
What is the third way to spend our energy between these poles? It must be to be fed by God, the story of the Eucharist. Our creator knows about our energy, knows we were created for wonder. Jesus in a sense came to teach us how to spend the energy in a life-giving and satisfied way. He filled every space provided by human energy and converted it into love.
And Jesus Christ is not done giving. By offering himself continually at the altar, he feeds us with food that continually moves us to the best ways to satisfy those never ending hungers. His food moves us toward compassion and mercy, reconciliation and forgiveness and, above all, love. It is only love’s inexhaustible depth that can match our ever present hunger. We were designed to need God, to need love and Eucharist is the food of love.
My friend Tim once asked me what is my favorite part of mass and I think I disappointed him. I said when I hold the body of Christ and say, “Behold the Lamb of God; behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are they who are called to the supper of the Lord.” I think he was surprised because there is no “magic” at that moment, and I do a lot of cool stuff at the altar. But that is such a complete statement of what we believe. Behold the Lamb of God who feeds us, gives us hope and joy and peace. Behold the Lamb of God who loves us.
To borrow from next week’s Gospel, the crowd that had first followed him to hear his word, were fed by him, then continued to follow him looking for more food and had asked how they can accomplish the works of God, are alarmed by what Jesus says. That Jesus says they must literally (correct usage) eat his body and drink his blood has left a poor taste in their mouth and they leave him. Soon he is surrounded only by his own disciples and Jesus asks, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter responds for the rest of them, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In the words of Bishop Scharfenberger “Do not lose hope.” Christ is still asking us to stay, still entrusting the changing of the world and his church to the body of Christ, to be the hope and the difference our world is looking for. He is still feeding us, he is still present and we come to know him in the breaking of the bread.

This was a tough week to be a priest and a tough week to be a Catholic with the repercussions of the McCarrick scandal and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. And I hate it when it is a tough week to be a priest because I love what I do and I am sure that you hate it when it is a tough week to be a Catholic because you love your faith. But we need to look at stark reality.
As for the situation in Pennsylvania, for me it was both expected and shocking. As someone who has lived with this for such a long time, the numbers as horrifying as they are seem to be comparable to most dioceses, ours included based on the priests who have been removed listed on our website. And it is gratifying that things have improved since the implementation of “Charter for Protection of Children” in 2002.” But it is impossible not to feel the shame of those stories of those who manipulated and violated so many. To feel the horror of what happened to those children. But what really angers me is the failure of leadership. It is embarrassing that at the end of the day, our church acted with no more morals or scruples than Hollywood.
It seems to me there is a crisis in leadership everywhere across the spectrum of our institutions and all boundaries of society. In theory, the leader is the most accountable in an organization for all that happens. In reality, it seems that leadership and power shields people from accountability. That is especially tragic for the church for we should be following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the ultimate leader. Jesus did not exploit the lost sheep; he rescued it, healed it and carried it home. We must have incarnational leaders, who are intimately bound to the people; leaders who as Pope Francis says,know the smell of the sheep, who are on the side of the powerless, the small and the victim.
Bishop Scharfenberger has responded brilliantly with a letter in this week’s bulletin and another we will hear from the pulpit next week and is available on the diocesan website. I am so honored to serve him. He tells us not to lost hope. You are our hope. You will need to lead us, make us accountable and transparent. The Church needs you. Just as we have betrayed the Spirit in sin and the Spirit does not betray us so our Church has betrayed the Spirit that leads and guides it, but the Spirit does not betray the Church. We can still feel it in the Eucharist, in our school which provides delight and hope for so many, in our outreach, our kindness, our charity and our love. Yes, we are bruised and shamed. But God is still present here.