Remarks on Charlottesville Riot on August 13, 2017

In the beautiful first reading of Isaiah waiting for God in the cave, God is not found in the powerful wind, the earthquake or the fire.  Instead, God comes intimately, in “a tiny whispering sound.”  Yesterday, in Charlottesville, we found that God can speak even more softly than that – in the sound of a tear hitting the ground.

That tear sets off an alert in us.  That forces of hatred and bigotry, white supremacists and neo Nazis must still be confronted.  That when such horrific forces are at work they are borne of ignorance, fear and isolation.  Predictably, they can only offer violence and hatred in support of their banal arguments. They must be challenged as they were yesterday with peace, creativity and love.  We can never let down our vigilance against the forces of hate until we are one nation, one people, one body of Christ.

Let us pray for the victims of the violence in Charlottesville, especially the three who died yesterday.  Let us pray for those who bear the burden of prejudice every day and let us work toward a conversion of hearts so that we might truly live as one.

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Feast of the Transfiguration A

I have fallen in love with the word ENOUGH.  It is a strange word to fall in love with. It does not come poetically to the ear.  When someone asks how much do you love me, no one wants to hear “Enough.”

But perhaps they should. For of all that Jesus promised could be summed up in that word.  We are loved “enough.”  Jesus did not make outrageous promises of this life of smooth sailing and uninterrupted happiness.  He spoke of carrying our cross and imitating him.  But the cross would not crush and we may die to ourselves but it is also followed by a resurrection.  You see we have been given enough to endure our crosses, our heartbreak and our tragedies.

The Transfiguration is a story of enough – enough to sustain the disciples through the shattering events of the cross.   A reminder of the promise which shall not be broken.

Of course, when you first meet enough, it looks like more than enough.  I am sure that the three apostles taken to the top of the mountain who witnessed these miracles never thought their faith would be shaken at all.  Not after all this.  First, Jesus is changed before them.  His face shone brilliantly and the tired clothes of a pilgrim became whiter than white.  Next the two heroes of their faith, Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, the prophets, are conversing with Jesus as casually as they were earlier in the day.  Just when it could not be any better, it gets better – a dense cloud hovers and from it comes the voice of God, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Befuddled, overwhelmed and filled with awe, Peter, James and John fall to ground.  Jesus says the word that was meant for them to hold onto, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”  They had seen it all.  What a blessing to see Jesus transformed in what was a preview of his resurrected body.  What assurance as to the dignity of the Lord they received when they saw him talking to Moses and Elijah. What an affirmation when heard the voice of God.

Of course, all that confidence and belief, as overwhelming when it occurred, dissipated through the gloom of Good Friday as it does in the midst of our Good Fridays.  They saw Jesus hunted and hurt, as they abandoned him, as they cowered in fear again in a room away from the action.  Yet, even the light of the Transfiguration reached them.  The three whispering in that room, “But he was with Moses and Elijah, we heard the voice of God.  What did he mean when he said “rising from the dead.”  They would have enough to last until Sunday morning.

That is how enough operates in our life.  God has given us a myriad of memories of love, a nest of relationships and enough love to have his endure the darkest nights of the soul.  I know it to be true.  Enough has sustained me through the deaths of my parents.  It has strengthened those I have witnessed  through life changing transitions and difficult decisions.  I have seen it in parents who have suffered the worst loss and know the miracle of getting up every day.  Tears are shed and we truly walk in the valley of darkness.  But our God never gives up.   We have enough.

St. Paul relates a story in 2nd Corinthians of how he asked the Lord to remove some physical ailment.  Paul who had done so much for God – shipwrecks, lashings, stoning and imprisonment and had no trouble sharing it – must have thought he had earned a cure.  Instead, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  God’s grace is sufficient for us for he has blessed us with family, friends and community.  It is sufficient for us for he comes to us in word and in sacrament.  It is sufficient for us for he died and rose and again.  We have enough.

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

They come about it in different ways.  A man stumbles on a treasure buried in a field.  He reburies it elsewhere on the land and then sells all he has and purchases the entire lot so as to obtain his treasure. (It sounds a little sketchy, but the Rabbis of the time it was, for lack of a better word, “Kosher.”)  Another man, this one seeking wealth, finally finds the pearl of great price.  He too leaves it, sells all that he has, to buy the pearl. Neither man can consult with anyone for fear the secret value would be revealed.    They have come to a decision point that is instinctual and will change their life forever.

We all have, or will one day, come to this type of decision.  It is not the moment you fall in love or the moment of inspiration with a great ideal.  It is the moment when you decide to surrender everything for your vocation; to what God is calling you to.  With this person I will build my family.  This is how I want to serve God.

What is remarkable about the two stories in the Gospel is that neither man hesitates or regrets even though it is the greatest risk of their life.  It is “out of joy” that the man surrenders all that he has to claim the treasure.  Come to think of it, those moments of ultimate dedication – marriages and ordinations – are also celebrated with joy.  It seems we are meant to give ourselves completely to possess something precious.

I remember coming to that point in my life.  It was not when I entered seminary.  Going to seminary is like dating the church.  It was about half way through when I knew priesthood was definitely what I wanted.  It was an interesting time as my friends were making their own ultimate decisions, starting their families.  And although my path was less heavily traveled than theirs, it would be wider and less intimate, but not without intimacy, we would be on the same journey of commitment and service to our people and our God.

By the way, it seems an appropriate time to mention that I know you know that I am busy.  But please believe me, I am never too busy to be available.  As they say in sports, the most important ability is availability.  As parents and children need to be open to each other to fulfill what is critical in their relationship, I promise to be there for you.

After all, once we have made that commitment, we tend not to regret that we gave too much; we regret what we held in reserve – a little more patience, another hug, another try.  Yes, it is a risk, and nothing is guaranteed.  But we should not confuse success with fidelity, for we can only control the latter.  In my saner moments, I try not to think of whether something succeeded – should we have merged? What about the school? Is this homily going anywhere?  Instead I focus on the process.  Did I pray enough, love enough, give enough?

For I believe it is at the heart of our creation that we feel a need to give it all away for Jesus Christ lives within us and he was the master of surrender.  In Greek, the term is called kenosis, the emptying of one’s self.  Christ’s life was a continuous pouring forth.  Look how he began.  A miraculous birth, heralded by angels as Messiah and Lord, imbued with great power. Look how he ended.  Nearly abandoned, forsaken and hated while dying on the cross. What happened in between?  No one took anything from him.  He gave it all away that we might be saved.  We are the pearl of great price.

Our closest imitation of Jesus can be found in that which we are willing to give everything for as he did for us.  To serve our vocation is to serve God and others.  Ultimately, our surrender is our victory.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time A 2017

In the old comic strip for children – Goofus and Gallant – Gallant was the character to did everything right, always polite and kind.  Goofus on the other hand was a disaster of manners and consequences.  Each week the strip compared the failed exploits of Goofus and the triumph of Gallant.  To understand today’s Gospel, let us understand two more characters.  Dour and Hope.

Dour bases his life on cynicism. He is content to expect the worse so that he may never be disappointed.  He lives a quiet and small life, keeping himself closed off.  He applauds himself when things go badly and congratulates himself for knowing it first.  Dour does not love, less he be heartbroken; does not befriend less he be betrayed; does not hope, less he be crushed.  His greatest prize is smugness.

Hope live differently for Hope is a Christian.  He takes risks for the sake of love; he extends himself for his brothers and sisters; he believes the world is alive and dynamic, moving toward ever greater blessing.  Hope is sometimes made to look the fool by Dour, but Hope is persistent.  You see hope believes in the kingdom of God and its ability to surprise.  Hope knows that the mustard seed, though only the smallest of seeds can produce the greatest of bushes while Dour would never dare plant a seed so small confident he knows it would produce no yield.  Hope knows that just a little yeast can leaven the whole dough and indeed the world, while Dour eats flat bread.

You see Hope believes in grace, which is the action of Jesus Christ in the world. He believes that everything has been transformed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that has created space for the Holy Spirit to change our lives.  Grace is the space that Christ operates in and Hope trusts himself to it.  Hope risks love, friendship and expectations to be in the rhythm of a dynamic world.  Dour resists being heartbroken as his heart atrophies.  He refuses attachment, but can only claim loneliness as his friend. He dies to brighter things, but his dreams run dry.

How can you not choose hope when you see its effects all around you?  I see it in the Journey kids who take the tremendous social risk of asking those who are unchurched to join them on a four day retreat.  They are willing to face rejection and ridicule because they know what the living Christ can do for them.  I see it in best friends who run a Catholic Worker house and lie in voluntary poverty, to live poorly among the poor and changing the lives of over 50 families at a time in Albany.  Mostly I see it though in the little things.  How often you have shared time and talent for the needs of others?  How often you think and pray for those who need it even if they are unaware of that need?  How often are you Christ in ways life-changing and moment changing?  Hope believes that every kindness makes a difference, every ounce of strength applied to a mountain of oppression pushes it closer to justice, and every decision to love connects us to the Holy Spirit of another.

The religion needed in this age is not static – one content with containment, careful in welcoming and distancing itself from the plight of others.  We need a religion of dynamism – always open, anxious to accept the other, entangled in the lives of those who need our help.  One that looks just like the Lord.  A religion of “yes”.  A religion alive with miracles and expectations.  A religion of hope.  Let that be our church.  Let that be Jesus Christ.

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

It seems clear from the readings this week that what we are offered in the Christian life is identity with Jesus Christ.  St. Paul says, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”  And Jesus himself promises “”Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”  This is what St. Irenaeus called participation in Christ that, for believers, our lives are a mirror of Jesus.  And I promise you that if you choose to live the life of Christ, you will be more satisfied, complete, purposeful and loving than you could ever imagine.  Which leaves me with one question, “Do want to live as Christ did?”

One does not have to look too far as to why you may not. To say yes to Christ’s life is to say yes to all the painful and tragic things that happened to him.  To be fair, it is not like Jesus hid the fact.  After all we spoke of being buried and dying with Christ.  Jesus makes clear the implication of living “with” him.  “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”  Suffering is the entrance fee into the life of Christ. Is that something you want?  In a world that does not value suffering and only resists it, which finds any way but the easiest way abhorrent, can we say yes to suffering; can we say yes to the cross?  In other words, every day when you choose your clothes (admittedly more of a challenge for you than for me) are you also ready to eye your cross and choose to carry it that day?

Well the one thing I can say that both those who carry their cross and those that don’t is that they will both suffer.  Suffering is inevitable to those who love.  Once you make the commitment to love, you become vulnerable.  Once you say that someone’s life matters more than yours, you relinquish all control.  If you want to avoid suffering, you could avoid love, but that indeed is the darkest and deepest suffering – a suffering of true loneliness and despair without the redeeming hope that comes from love.  So the choice is not whether you allow yourself to suffer; it is would you rather suffer with Christ?

Suffering with Christ, carrying your cross is simply putting your love into action.  It is holding precious what God holds precious. It is surrendering to love.

This year I asked the kindergartners at our school to ask me questions.  The little buggers gave me their best.  Who made God?  Who made the devil?  Did Jesus have any friends? And, most hurtful, do you have any friends?  They also asked me if Jesus wanted to die on the cross.  Now isn’t that a question?

And I thought of the agony in the garden. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”  I thought of how much Jesus valued life and must have hated to have it torn away.  Then I realized the question does not fit into a Jesus category.  It was never a question of “want.”  He only wanted to love his best at all times for all people.  And that is the ideal of freedom – to always choose love.

So if we are to be identified with Christ by the splash of baptismal water, we are invited to make all our decisions for love.  We are capable of it. And we can live by it. Our cross is not a cross of useless torture, but the sacrifice embedded in love.    It is the joy of being called a Christian.

 

Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ A

 

 

 

It was over 25 years ago and I had told my friends that I was thinking of entering the seminary when my friend Alissa gave me a book by the German write Ranier Marie Rilke.  I was startled by the challenge to think of what you would die for, and then live for it.  It is the kind of answer that you cannot think about.  It needs to come to you in a flash and my answer surprised me.  The Eucharist.  Until that moment I had never known just how deeply I have been penetrated by the Eucharist.  How Christ’s body and blood had formed me and moved me.

 

I have been extra reflective this weekend because John Cronin was ordained a priest in our diocese and every ordination encourages you to recall the heady days of your own ordination.  I was not worried about my first mass because there were all these great priests behind me and I figured one of them would make this bread and wine the body and blood of Christ.  It was a couple of days later with hosts borrowed from the local church and with only my family around that I felt the pressure.  As it came time for the invocation of the Holy Spirit, I spread my arms wide, lowered over the bread and wine and thought, “Let’s see what happens.”   I think you know that I am not one to declare every little thing a miracle, but that mass I felt something go forth from my hands, something I am sure was the Holy Spirit.   And it has happened every time since.

 

I love all the symbolism that surrounds the Eucharist.  It speaks more eloquently of its nature than words might ever.  I love that the very gifts are bread and wine; one the staple of life, the other the celebratory gift of joy.  I love that wheat gathered from hillsides becomes, by the work of human hands the bread we bless.  I love that grapes grown, gathered and mixed becomes the precious gift of wine.  I love that nature combines with humanity so that divinity might further transform these gifts.  But what makes these symbols radiate is the realness of the Eucharist.  I know that if the Eucharist were anything less than the true body and blood of Christ, it would not have such a central role in my life.  It would not be enough for any of us. 

 

What evidence do I have for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist?  The most compelling is the least admissible I imagine.  It is the utter conviction of seven year olds as they are about to receive their first communion.  It is those who stand in front of the altar as they are about to bring communion to their homebound loved ones as if they are about to receive a life saving remedy, for they are about to receive a life saving remedy.  It is the rare times when I have the great privilege of giving communion to those who are dying.  We call it viaticum which means food for the journey and the distance between life and death is bridged just as I feel the closest I can be to my deceased parents is when I receive Eucharist. 

 

Such is the power of Eucharist is that I have argued that if Jesus could make it real, could actually give himself through the sacrament, he certainly would.  And since God knows no limits, I do not doubt that he truly gave himself.  In a simple formula, if he could, he would.  He could, so he did.  Jesus certainly insists that “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”  Even when they wanted him to back off, his listeners begged him to say he did not really mean true food and drink, only doubled down.  “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”

 

Jesus Christ, the same Christ who became human, who befriended and was betrayed, who walked this earth and stumbled with the cross, who knew grew great victory and agony, is within us.  We can never say we are alone, for we have been chosen to receive him.  We can never be diminished for he grows within us.  We can never forget our dignity because God has come into our lives.

 

Yes, on this Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we assert that Christ is real in the Eucharist.  We proclaim he has placed his life within us.  How could he love us less by denying his own self since he could only love perfectly?  How could we as a community be transformed into a family of care, compassion and true concern unless the actual body of Christ really made us the true Body of Christ?  Let us rejoice, marvel and thank Go d that we have received from God the true body and blood of Jesus Christ.

 

Most Holy Trinity A

On this first beautiful and summery day, I thought nothing could be more beneficial than an overly theological homily!

Couched in the second reading is a very familiar phrase as Saint Paul greets the Corinthians in his second letter.  “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” I congratulate all of you for not saying “And in your Spirit” as a response to the second reading!  Yet, this phrase, with the slight correction of the recent liturgical translation of fellowship to communion, represents a staggering insight into the Trinity. And through this insight, we might discover that what seems the most theoretical and foreign of doctrines, the Trinity, provides the greatest revelation of our character and humanity.

Let us begin where everything began.  The Love of God.  Love is the most complete thing we can say about God.  But love as we know is not static.  It immediately and inevitably seeks an object.  First among those objects was that Jesus was begotten.  He stands first as the beloved of God.  His being the beloved makes Jesus the verb of God, love in action.  When he became human, he was still the uniquely beloved of God.  But love does not stop at perfection, fortunately for us.   Love presses on, always needing to express itself so God presses on and expresses God’s self.  And thus came the next thing to be beloved:  creation.  Love is always creative and God’s love brings forth the world.  It is good as we hear in Genesis not just of itself, but more importantly because it is of God and God is good.  Therefore in our deepest place, in the marrow of our bones with more certainty than our DNA, we know we are created in love and are the beloved of God.

Now all of us have been loved.  Two things happen immediately.  We come to true self-knowledge when loved. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself would you know who you were if no one loved you?  If all refused to recognize your dignity, if no one found in you anything redeemable or loveable, not only would you not know yourself, you would likely just wither away.  Being beloved of God changes all that.  Not only do we have a dignity; it is a supreme and unassailable one as we are loved by God – indeed, loved by love.  Jesus accepted this dignity and this love perfectly, retaining everything that God has given him.  Grace is the action of God as shown in Jesus Christ.  And while far from perfect, we come to know ourselves through our experience of grace no matter how stumbling and bumbling is our reception of that grace.  As the beloved one, Jesus Christ, perfectly reflected God.  You and I, imperfect as we are, are still the image of God.

Within the Trinity, the love of God and the grace of Jesus Christ is bound by the Holy Spirit as it is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring together, to create a common union.  As within the Trinity, so it emanates outward and the Spirit is the agent of our love of God.  And since God is all love, then all love is expressed through the Holy Spirit.  For the beloved then asks another question, “How can I return love to the one whose life gave me life and whose love gave me love?”

A young adult once asked me one of the great theological questions of all time.  “Were Adam and Eve cavemen?”  Wow.  But with the help of another friend, we actually developed an answer that I think is pretty good.  If the most elemental human thing is to love, than that which defined the first humans was not an opposable thumb, but the ability to love and the ability to return love to its ultimate source. Perhaps that is why the religious instinct runs so deeply in all cultures.  We are here because worship of the one who loved us first is the first and most fitting of our desires.

The love of God, its action through grace in Jesus Christ and its expression through the Holy Spirit is not just the story of God, it is ours as well.  Lost in the debate of the origin of the universe is the most important fact – that it is fundamentally a pouring out of the love of God.  Love is the foundation of the world and every creature as it is the entire nature of God.

Yesterday, was a tough day for me.  The youngest child of two of my friends passed away at 13 and yesterday we had a service for him.  What can you say when you can barely breathe?  And yet a beauty showed forth.  Rather than the mourner’s black, we wore the bright colors that Ian favored.  There was nothing to do but to smile and cry.  And love.  We all loved the parents, their daughter and each other.  Stripped of everything we could still do the one thing we were made for.  We could still do the one thing that matters most.  We could still be as God made us to be and we could still be what God is.  We could love.