The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Homily: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings:1 Kgs 19:16-21; Ps 19; Gal 5:1,13-18; Lke 9:51-62

Growing up in suburban New York back in the fifties, I loved the long days of summer vacation. And I especially liked those hours of daylight between supper and sunset. Right after dinner, all the kids in the neighborhood would run out into the street to play stick-ball or curb-ball, two perfect games created by God for the exclusive enjoyment of the children of New York. We’d play until right before sunset, for that’s when we’d begin to hear voices, the voices of mothers calling for their children.

The youngest would always be called first. Then came the twins, Robert and Dick Moll, whose strict Jewish mother was sure they’d be hit by a car if they stayed out a minute past dusk. Next came Larry Henriques, Kenny Flowers, Teddy Nichols, and me. And then the older kids, who’d get maybe another 15 minutes.

It was quite a ritual. I was particularly good at pleading and begging for more time. “It’s a tie game, Mom. We can’t end on a tie game.” Sometimes it actually worked and I’d win a few precious minutes. But more often the next thing I’d hear would be the booming voice of my father. This was no request. It was a command. The alternative? Well, that was something no ten-year-old mind wanted to dwell on. So when my father called, I obeyed...well, usually.

Remembering those days, I realized how little we change as we age. Oh, we change on the surface. We mature physically, emotionally, and intellectually. We may no longer look like children, but we are still childish in so many ways. We’ve learned to place a few controls on our emotions, so we won’t embarrass ourselves in polite company. And unlike children with their transparent excuses, we’ve learned to create and express nice-sounding, politically correct rationales for our less-than-perfect behavior. Quite simply, we’ve become devious. Hiding behind our age and the trappings of adulthood, we manage to fool ourselves into believing we’re no longer the naïve, dependent children we once were.

Indeed, most of us actually believe we’re self-sufficient, independent beings, in complete control of our lives. We have our homes, our jobs, our investments, our nice cars, our retirement home in The Villages… Everything is right with our little world.

But then reality intrudes in the form of the Gospel. In the Gospel we’re confronted by uncomfortable truths that conflict with our seemingly comfortable lives.

The first truth? We are all called. And Jesus’ call is at the very heart of Christian discipleship.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus, knowing what lies ahead of Him in Jerusalem, nevertheless begins His journey full of resolve because His mission is nothing less than the salvation of humanity. And as He and His disciples make their way across Samaria, Jesus continues to call us to Him. “Follow me,” He says, first to one, then another. Jesus calls them – the same invitation He offers to you and to me. And what’s their response? What’s our response?

Like the children playing in that New York street 50 years ago, all those called by Jesus expressed a willingness to comply…just not quite yet. Each made an excuse for putting it off. Each was bound to his current life by something he considered more important than God and His call. How utterly foolish of them…and of us! They fell prey to the misguided and soul-destroying belief that the things of this world take precedence over God.

Oh, their excuses sound legitimate enough. “Let me bury my father first,” one replied. Sounds reasonable, until we understand what he really meant. His father, you see, was still alive or the man wouldn’t have been there. It was Jewish custom to bury their dead on the same day they died.

What this young man was really saying is that he was not yet willing to leave the comforts of home and family. Maybe after his father died…But Jesus would have none of it. “Come away and proclaim the kingdom of God,” He responds. Jesus knows that, in everything, there’s a crucial moment when one is expected to act. This was this young man’s crucial moment, and he missed it.

When another expressed a desire to respond, Jesus looked into his heart and saw unwillingness to accept the poverty and insecurity he’ll be called to face. “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Are you ready for that?

Still another wanted to say goodbye to the folks at home, but Jesus told him a disciple must be prepared to sacrifice everything, even the affection of a family. “Whoever puts his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God.” Everyone in that rural audience knew that if one wants to plow a straight furrow, he must pay attention to where he’s going, not where he’s been.

They also knew the story told in our first reading. When called by Elijah, Elisha, a wealthy man with 12 yoke of oxen, gave up everything. Using his wooden plows as fuel, he barbecued his oxen, distributed the food among his people. He gave up every asset, left his parents, and broke all ties with his comfortable life. There was no going back for Elisha.

The world sees Elisha’s actions as the height of irresponsibility, but God doesn’t call us to conform to the world. He calls us to conform to His Will.

Some of you may object that God’s call is reserved for prophets and saints, for specially chosen men and women. And you’d be wrong. God issues His call to each of us. As St. Paul told the people of Galatia, “Remember that you have been called to live in freedom – but not a freedom that gives reign to the flesh.”

For here lies one of the great truths and great paradoxes of Christianity: We are truly free only when we accept our complete dependence on the will of God. Anything else leads to slavery, the slavery of sin, the slavery of materialism, the slavery of setting ourselves up like gods in control of our own destiny.

Listen to the call of Christ. It is Christ who sets us free – who calls us to freedom. Stand firm, St. Paul instructs us, don’t slip back into slavery.

But sometimes it’s easier to remain enslaved. Like the faithless Israelites who cursed Moses for leading them into the suffering of the desert. Better to live in slavery than to die in the desert. It’s no different today. The entire world – the world of media, advertising, entertainment, politics – all the machinery of our secular society entices us into slavery. It’s a message designed to drown out the message of Jesus Christ: “Listen to us” the world shouts at us, “We will tell you what you want!”

But Jesus doesn’t shout. He doesn’t force us. No, He asks us; for He respects our freedom.

“What do you want?” he asks. Do you really want the life in the Spirit I have promised you?

Do you really want to follow me? Do you want the exhilarating joy of God’s freedom?

If you walk in my light, if you walk in the light of Christ, I will free you from the darkness that surrounds you.

What do you want?

And then, brothers and sisters, you and I are left to give our answer.

Homily: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Zed 12:10-11;13:1 ;Ps 63; Gal 3:26-29; Lk 9:18-24

Something we notice when reading the Gospels is that Jesus always seems to be asking questions. Now, when you and I ask a question, we’re usually looking for an answer. We want to know something we didn’t know before. But Jesus asks questions not to inform Himself, but to inform the person being questioned.

For example, I know you all remember that remarkable scene when the friends of a paralytic lower him through the roof, hoping Jesus would heal him. Jesus responds by saying, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Now this really bothers a group of scribes who witness the scene and they whisper among themselves, accusing Jesus of blasphemy. Jesus simply turns and asks them: “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Yes, Jesus knows the answer, but He wants the scribes to think about what they’re doing, to examine their own consciences.

And remember that wonderful incident in Jericho when Jesus confronted Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, and asked him: “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus simply responded, “Master, I want to see.” No surprise there. But then Jesus says, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

Jesus said nothing about healing his physical blindness, but instead addressed the state of Bartimaeus’ soul. Jesus didn’t say, “I have healed you.” No, He said, “…your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus received his sight immediately, both his physical and his spiritual sight; for we’re told he stayed with Jesus and followed Him on the way.

And then there’s that scene in John’s Gospel when almost all of His disciples left Him because they couldn’t accept His teaching on the Eucharist. Jesus asked the Apostles, “Do you also want to leave?” It’s Peter who responded, and with a question of his own: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Yes, Jesus is always asking questions, and in today’s reading from Luke, He again questioned the Apostles. This brief dialogue took place at Caesarea Philippi – not a Jewish place, but a pagan place. Nearby were temples devoted to the pagan gods, to the Syrian god, Baal, and to the Greek god, Pan, the god of the wild, of nature. There was even a temple there celebrating the divinity of the Roman emperor. In the midst of all this, surrounded by false gods made by men in their own image and likeness, Jesus confronts the twelve and asks: “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

Such a simple, non-threatening question – just tell me what folks are saying. Take a poll, sample public opinion, let me know what the man or woman in the street thinks about me. Today he probably would have said, “Did you Google my name? What popped up?”

Oh, yes, all kinds of things popped up…lots of things.  And so they told Him. After all, they had no stake in it. They had only to pass along the opinions of others.

Once again, Jesus knows the answer, for He too has certainly heard the crowds. He knows full well what the people say about Him: He is a prophet, John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah, returned from the dead. And this exactly is what the Apostles tell Him.

But, again, Jesus didn’t ask the question to hear what He already knows. No, He wants the Apostles to question themselves about His identity…because their answer will determine their future. Once they come to a firm understanding of exactly who Jesus is, and once they accept the truth of that answer, their lives will change forever. And so Jesus leads them into the future by asking them: “But who do you say that I am?”

And again it’s Peter who shows the way. Peter, the de facto leader of the twelve, the boaster who hides his weakness behind a façade of bluster, the disciple who will shed tears of shame in the face of his threefold denial – yes, it’s this Peter who can answer by saying: “The Christ of God.” In Matthew’s Gospel his words are slightly different: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Filled with the Spirit, Peter exclaims, “You are the promised One, the One sent by God.” It’s confirmed when Jesus tells them to keep quiet. And He goes on to tell them what will happen to Him: He, the long-awaited Messiah, will be rejected by those who await Him. The One sent by God will suffer greatly and be killed.

As Zechariah prophesied in our first reading, “they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him.” But He also gives them a glimpse of hope: on the third day He will be raised.

Of course the disciples understand nothing of this. The very thought of a murdered Messiah simply doesn’t compute. But there’s more…because discipleship has consequences. Jesus leads them into their own future, for they must follow Him, take the same path, a path that leads to the Cross. It’s here He introduces the great paradox of Christian life: that we will save our lives, only if we’re willing to risk losing our lives. And if we do, God will raise us just as He raised up His Son on the third day.

You see, Jesus was looking for more than a quick one-liner answer to His question. He was looking for an answer that lasts a lifetime. It wasn’t a question just for those first disciples, for Peter and that small band of followers. For Jesus turns to us as well…

“You there! Yes, you…Who do you say that I am?”

Deep down we all know what He means, don’t we? Do I really have to take up those crosses – those people, those hardships, those sorrows, those personal calamities – that conspire to make my life so difficult?

“Yes, if you would be my disciple.”

As Paul told us, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” To be “clothed in Christ” is to accept the cost of discipleship, to accept His invitation to love, to love as Jesus loved when He took up His cross. This is what it means to be a cross-bearer alongside Our Lord.

And so He continues to question us, “Who do you say that I am?” The question just hangs in the air, doesn’t it? It won’t go away, brothers and sisters. We can try to ignore it, drown it out with the sounds of our lives…but it remains, waiting for an answer.

Jesus doesn’t want opinions. He wants an answer: “Who do you say that I am?”  There comes a time when we must answer this question, make our own confessions, as Peter did. But along with the question comes the promise of joy, the promise of eternal life beyond our imagining.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is here with us right now, present in this gathering as he always is — the walking, talking, living presence of God in our lives. We have already listened to Him as He spoke to us through His Word, and in a few moments, He’ll be present on this Altar. When we join together and process to communion, when we extend our hands, when we eat and drink, will we be able to give him our final answer — no opinions, just the testimony of our lives. “Who do you say that I am?

Homily: Wednesday, 12th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Gen 15:1-12,17-18; Ps 105; Mt 7:15-20
Do you remember that preacher, Harold Camping, who predicted the world would end on October 21, 2011. He collected all sorts of donations from supporters, and used much of the money to put up billboards across the country announcing his prediction. I recall seeing several along the interstate on one of our trips up north. Of course, as it turned out, he wasn’t a very adept prophet, and the fateful day came and went.

About the same time we began to hear rumblings from new-agers that centuries ago the Mayans had predicted the world would end on December 21, 2012. It seems that millions of people throughout the world had become convinced that these primitive folks apparently had some inside knowledge. Of course, that day came and went as well. The prophecy was grudgingly accepted as false and I suppose the true believers are now searching for the next false prophet.

Yes, our world is filled with false prophets and their followers, people so caught up in their fantasies that they’re unable to recognize the truth. But many not only reject the truth; they reject the source of all truth. They reject God Himself. And by doing so they can’t accept that humanity’s ultimate vocation is salvation, eternal life, the reason we were created in the first place.

In the Gospel passage we just heard from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us about false prophets, telling us we can recognize them by their fruits. How easy to listen to the words of the false prophet, all the while ignoring what those words yield.

False prophets abound, but fortunately we have the example of others, of those who yield good fruit. How blessed we’ve been with the saintly popes who have led the Church in recent years – with John Paul, Benedict and Francis.

But this has been true in every age of the Church. The Spirit seems always to raise up the saintly men and women most needed by the Church and the world. Whenever the Church faced a crisis, God supplied just the right person to handle it; people like Leo the Great, Catherine of Sienna, Francis Assisi, and two saints whose feasts we celebrated just last Saturday: Thomas More and John Fisher.

Both were executed by King Henry VIII because they refused to accept the king’s temporal authority over Christ’s universal Church. Who could be more relevant to our own times?  Indeed, Pope John Paul II named Thomas More the patron saint of political leaders.

Our modern politicians would do well to emulate these two 16th-century martyrs, for each was both wise and virtuous. In wisdom each applied his intelligence toward the accomplishment of what was good, and in virtue each habitually chose the good, regardless of the consequences.
This, of course, demands courage, the sort of personal courage rare among politicians of any time and place, but increasingly rare today.

How sad that we live in a world where true wisdom and true virtue are more often ridiculed than praised. For too many, cleverness has supplanted wisdom and pragmatism has replaced virtue, and the intoxicating and corrupting influence of power becomes oh so apparent. Too many see no difference between good and bad fruit because they no longer recognize virtue, they do longer discriminate between good and evil.

Relativism has replaced truth, and like Pontius Pilate they can look into the eyes of their God and sneer, “What is truth?” Like Pilate, some trees are deceivingly and splendidly arrayed, but have no fruit…while others bear only bad fruit, because they have chosen their will over God’s.

The Church will provide today’s prophets, brothers and sisters, and we will recognize them by their fruits. The patron of our parish, St. Vincent de Paul, warned his brothers not to become those wolves in sheep‘s clothing that Jesus warned us about.

In Vincent’s words…

“They pride themselves on their inflated imaginations. They are satisfied with the sweet exchanges they have with God in prayer; they even talk about it like angels. But when they come away is there any question of working for God, of suffering, practicing mortification, teaching the poor, searching for the lost sheep, being pleased when they lack something, accepting sickness or some other misfortune? No, let us not deceive ourselves: our whole task consists in doing the Father’s will.”

And that, brothers and sisters, is our task as well.

Homily: Wednesday, 11th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Cor 9:6-11; Ps 112; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

I grew up in the Northeast, along the coast, so whenever I read in the Bible about sowing and reaping and harvesting and scattering…well, these farming metaphors don’t really strike home. About the closest I ever came to farming was mowing the lawn. But living near the ocean I did spend some time on the water. Indeed, I had a number of friends who were commercial fisherman, and on a few occasions I joined them on their boats.

Although fishing at sea is very different from farming, there are similarities. Both are dependent on the whims of nature, and nature can be harsh. Both occupations can experience the kind of failure that can result in financial catastrophe, the loss of a season’s income.

Some elements of our lives are simply beyond our control. And I suppose it’s good that this is so, that we come to know we are creatures with limitations. The challenges and disappointments of life are strong reminders that we are simply men and women. We are not God.

Of course, you don’t have to be a farmer or a fisherman to experience loss. Diane and I volunteer as chaplains at our local hospital. Earlier this week, we received a late-night call to go to the ICU to meet with the family of a dying woman. As it turned out, she died just moments before we arrived.

Even though she had been seriously ill for some time and her family expected her death, her three grown children were devastated. Her son, especially, was overcome with grief. He had cared for day and night for over seven years and just couldn’t handle her death. His care for her had been a work of selfless charity that few of us could probably handle.

I suppose we spent at least 30 minutes simply listening to all three as they poured out their hearts and spoke of their mother. Fortunately all were believing Christians, and responded well to our feeble attempts to comfort them and they willingly joined us in prayer.

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus reminds us that our works of charity must be acts of humility. Believe me, I am always humbled in the presence of the dying and those who care for them.

And charity must be hidden, Jesus tells us, the kind of work that seeks no human reward. Charity, the business of love, yields no return. There’s no bountiful crop, no net-breaking catch, no obvious reward.

Nature is very fickle with her rewards, but not the Father, the One Who is love. As Jesus reminds us, these works of ours please the Father greatly. He loves our love. And He will reward us, just not always in ways we might expect. Perhaps the Father, who sees our works in secret, places a little something in our heavenly fishing net or silo. Maybe that little something, the Father’s reward, is something far greater than we can ever imagine.

My father, speaking of charity, used to say, “Throw bread on the water and it comes back strawberry shortcake.”  You just never know when it will arrive.

Homily: Wednesday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Cor 3:4-11 • Psalm 99 • Matthew 5:17-19

Not long ago I heard a theologian suggest that Jesus didn’t know He was divine until the Resurrection. He dismissed the many, many Gospel passages that suggest otherwise, saying they were all concocted by believers after the fact. In other words, he thought the New Testament writers were all liars. Of course, I don’t agree.

I thought of him when reading today’s Gospel passage in which Jesus claimed boldly that He had “come not to abolish the Law…but to fulfill” it. This declaration would have shocked any Jew who heard it; for only God Himself can fulfill the Law. Jesus would be seen as a fool, or as a deranged, self-serving false prophet, or as the incarnate Son of God.

For us, of course, they’re the words of someone who knows exactly what he’s about. They’re the words of one who knows he is Jesus of Nazareth, from the household of Mary and Joseph; but they’re also the words of one who’s fully aware of his true Person, who has the extraordinary understanding of himself as Son of God.

When he says, “I have come”, he’s not talking about his recent journey from Galilee to Judea. No, His is the coming of the Divine Word, a unique, metaphysical, historical descent from the Father. He is both the Source of the Law and its fulfillment, the Alpha and the Omega.

His coming, then, is absolute. His teaching is absolute. He stands in our midst simply and humbly, but wielding the power of God. And his Word flows out of him and imposes itself on us just as the rising sun sheds its light and warmth on the earth. Only the source of the Law could preach the Sermon on the Mount, offer the beatitudes, bring to full fruition every tiny seed of the Law, show us the true spirit of the Law, the truth hidden in the letter. The Truth remains hidden until he comes: “I have come…to fulfill it.” It’s only through Jesus’ coming that the Law can reach its full perfection.

He also tells us that nothing in the Law shall perish, not a jot or tittle, not a comma or serif, for God is the author of the Law. Christ’s presence doesn’t abolish the Law, for Christ, as early Christians believed, is the Law. Christ and Law are Lord and Word. Before his coming in the flesh he communicated only indirectly, through messengers; now he communicates in person. When Jesus appears in the world and communicates face to face, He embraces the Law; He tells us and shows us what it truly is, bringing it to fulfillment in His very person.

This is why we revere and continue to read the Law and the Prophets. This is why the Church Fathers taught that the entire Old Testament points to Jesus, its fulfillment. And recall how Jesus, Himself, changed the hearts of His two disciples on the road to Emmaus by opening the Scriptures to them, taking them through Moses and all the Prophets interpreting his Word.

Jesus is the author of both the cosmos and the Law. The cosmos is his artistic revelation, through order and beauty, but the Law is his personal revelation, his face-to-face revelation in words. Without the Law, without Jesus Christ, we wouldn’t understand the cosmos. We wouldn’t understand anything.

God's peace.

Back in Business

I haven't posted anything in almost a month. I've simply been too busy since returning in early June from our trip up north. And then, about 10 days ago, my hard drive crashed and put me out of business for a day or two. Rather than replacing the drive, I ended up buying a new PC with Windows 8 and all the trimmings...well, the few trimmings I actually need. The cost of a new PC is really quite reasonable these days, especially if you're not a gamer, and I'm not. I am, however, an amateur photographer of sorts, so my hard drive contained several hundred gigabytes of the photos and videos I've taken over the years. Fortunately, I had actually planned ahead and backed up everything daily using "Just Cloud". As you might imagine, the restoration of all these gigabytes of data has taken quite some time, but the task is now complete. No data was lost, so I'm very happy.

A lot has happened since my last post. The Internal Revenue Service has admitted focusing its considerable powers on conservative and religious organizations thus exposing itself as the enforcement arm of the administration's political team. I trust their local field agents will not hold my repetition of this revelation against me come April 15, and will instead remember all the love I have often expressed for this agency and its employees. Fortunately my income is negligible and my assets few, so I am hardly an enticing target.
NSA Headquarters

Not to be outdone, the NSA, the Fort Meade-based intelligence organization that prefers to remain in the deep shadows, has also been the recipient of more than a little unwonted exposure. It would seem that Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower / traitor / hero / enemy spy (pick one), has informed the world about the NSA's apparently insatiable appetite for data. In its enthusiasm for accomplishing its mission to save us from our enemies, it decided that the best way to identify potential bad guys is to gather everything on everybody. That way they will miss nothing. Of course, the fact that this might well violate the letter and spirit of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures was seemingly overlooked in all the post-9-11 excitement. I'm sure they'll get it all sorted out soon; and don't worry, the NSA is completely apolitical and would never use this huge pile of data inappropriately.

Justice Kennedy
And then this week the Supreme Court, thanks to Justice Kennedy, its designated swing-voter, issued a 5-4 decision declaring the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. In doing so the Court overturned more than the Act; they also overturned several thousand years of human history, tradition, and moral values. Justice Kennedy, reading the majority opinion, stated that the Act represented "a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group," that it "demeans the [same-sex] couple" and "humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples." The opinion goes on to state that "the principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage."

In affect, then, Justice Kennedy and his four liberal colleagues have accused the legislators who voted for DOMA back in 1996 of willfully wanting to demean, harm, and humiliate the nation's homosexual citizens. Those legislators include now-Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Patrick Leahy, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Patty Murray, Senator Carl Levin, and many more Democrats. And DOMA was, of course, signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. There's irony in here somewhere.
Hagia Sophia [(c) National Geographic]

Looking overseas, there's some interesting news out of Turkey. One of Christendom's oldest and greatest cathedrals, Hagia Sophia in Instanbul (pictured above), was desecrated and turned into a mosque after the Ottoman Turks sacked Constantinople back in the 15th century. In the 1920s, when the nationalistic secularist Ataturk removed the Ottomans from power, the cathedral-mosque was converted into a museum.

Studios Monastery in Turkey
But this could soon change. There is a movement to transform the building into a working mosque once again. And this is not a unique case. A number of Turkey's historical Christian churches are being turned into mosques. Indeed, even the world's oldest still functioning Christian monastery, the Studios Monastery, built in the 5th century and dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is also threatened. The locals have accused the monks of anti-Turkish activities and of illegally occupying the monastery which they claim is on land belonging to the local villagers. According to news reports the appeals court in Ankara sided with the villagers. The court stated that the property on which the monastery has sat for over 1,600 years doesn't really belong to the monastery. The court also declared that the monastery was built on top of a mosque. Now that would be quite trick since the monastery was constructed almost 200 years before Muhammad was born. The logic of Islam continues to amaze.

Come, Lord Jesus! [Rev 22:20]

Monday, June 10, 2013

Homily: 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C)

Been There, Done That... (Sunday, June 9)

Readings: 1 Kg 17:17-24; Ps 30; Gal 1:11-19; Lk 7:11-17

As we hear the Gospel read each Sunday, we encounter several movements, threads that run from beginning to end. Each is like the plot-line of a novel, but of course in the Gospel we encounter truth, not fiction.

Now, in today’s Gospel passage from Luke we find several of these threads intersecting with the others. The first and perhaps the most obvious thread is the Gospel story itself: the journey Jesus makes from the moment of the Incarnation through His public ministry, and on to His passion, death and Resurrection. It’s a story of fulfillment; the realization of all the prophecies, of all the foreshadowings that fill the Old Testament. 

Elijah prays for the widow's son
And so it’s no mystery why the Church includes the story of the prophet Elijah among today’s readings. For in this story we see an almost perfect foreshadowing of the miracle in today’s Gospel passage. Elijah calls on the power of God that, through him, the poor widow’s son might be brought back to life. In the Gospel, Jesus seems to accomplish the same thing: another poor widow’s son is brought back to life.

But a foreshadowing in the Old Testament doesn’t point to a mirror image of itself; no, it always points to something greater. For example, in our first reading Elijah must call on and rely on God’s power – “O LORD, my God, let the life-breath return to the body of this child” [1 Kg 17:21]. But that’s not all. Elijah commits himself body and soul, literally stretches himself out on the dead child; and by doing so foreshadows something much greater. For in this act we get a glimpse of Jesus becoming one with us, becoming one of us, matching us body to body. He takes on the wholeness of our lives, our illnesses, our sorrows, even our death.

And then Scripture tells us: “The LORD heard the prayer of Elijah; the life breath returned to the child’s body and he revived” [1 Kg 17:22]. But there are other differences. And Elijah, the prophet, points to something else, something far greater. For, unlike Elijah, Jesus calls on no one but Himself: “Young man, I tell you, arise!” [Lk 7:14] Yes, unlike the prophet, Jesus relies only on His own authority, and by doing so reveals His divinity to all who will accept it.

And here we encounter a point on a second, parallel thread running through the Gospel, a thread of revelation, a revelation of exactly who Jesus is, a thread that reveals to all the divinity of Jesus Christ. Although His divinity is proclaimed from the very beginning – Indeed, Mark begins his Gospel by saying, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” [Mk 1:1] …but like the apostle Thomas most of us still need to see to believe. And so Jesus, throughout His ministry, tells us and shows us. Through His Word and His works we, too, come to see and to believe.

A third thread that winds its way through the Gospels is perhaps less obvious because we’re so focused on Jesus, we don’t always notice the others who populate the Gospels. This thread follows the movement of the disciples, their coming to knowledge and understanding over time. For most of them it’s a slow, often erratic movement, full of fits and starts; but the disciples, too, move ultimately to the truth, thanks to the Holy Spirit. It’s a movement to faith, to hope, to love.

As we watch the disciples move toward this understanding, we notice others: some are indifferent; some are intrigued and follow Jesus for a time, until He teaches something they can’t accept; and others, why they reject Jesus outright.

Although this rejection of Jesus is not particularly surprising, Jesus’s message certainly was. Filled with hope, His message also forced people to recognize their sinfulness…and most of us don’t care much for that. Yes, Jesus can always be counted on to say some surprising things. Indeed, they’re more than just surprising; they go against the grain of the world; they’re truly counter-cultural.

In today’s Gospel passage He approaches a poor widow as she walks alongside the coffin containing her only son’s body. She’s in tears. Not only does she grieve for her dead son, but she grieves also for herself. For who will take care of her now? And what does Jesus say? In effect, “Stop crying.” [Lk 7:13]

As a deacon I’ve conducted my share of funerals and vigils, and I’ve spent time with many tearful people who have lost loved ones. But I’ve never been tempted to tell one of them, “Now, stop crying.”

As faithful Christians, we know all our sorrows will ultimately be turned to joy. As the Book of Revelation tells us: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning…” [Rv 21:4]  But until that day comes, we experience those sorrows, and we shed those tears.

If you’ve ever spent time with a loved one or friend as they were dying, you know how difficult it can be. You wish you could just reach out and touch them and heal them, to ease their suffering, to bring them back to physical wholeness, so they can stay with you and continue to be a part of your life. Can you imagine the sense of pure joy that such a miraculous healing would bring?
Jesus raises the widow's dead son

Well, in today’s Gospel passage that’s exactly what happened.  “Do not weep,” Jesus says to the grieving mother. And then, without giving her a chance to respond, he does the miraculous and gives all of us a taste of the joy we can expect.

But what was the effect on those who witnessed this miracle? According to Luke, fear seized the crowd; and rightly so. You and I would be afraid as well. For the dead simply don’t come back to life. And then Luke goes on to tell us, “they glorified God” [Lk 7:16] for who else could do this? Yes, they were sure this was God’s work. They just weren’t sure how Jesus fit in.

Interestingly, Luke gives us two responses. Some apparently saw Jesus as another Elijah and spread the word that, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst.” But others, it would seem, believed they had witnessed something greater, and proclaimed: “God has visited his people.” [Lk 7:16]

And with that the work of evangelization began: “This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region” [Lk 7:17]. Yes, God has visited His people, and brought us a message of hope.

“Don’t you see who I am?” He asks us all. “I am the way and the truth and the life” [Jn 14:6]. And the life I offer you is eternal life.

I will carry you out of the darkness if only you will let me.

I will free you from the prisons of your own making, from your fears, your sorrows...from your sins.

Come to me and exchange the darkness for the light of Christ.

“When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ He stepped forward and touched the coffin.” [Lk 7:13-14]

Brothers and sisters, no matter what darkness might overcome us, the Lord Jesus enters the darkness. He touches the coffin. He touches the wood. He receives the nails. He cries out in despair, just as we often do the same.

Jesus, you see, has been there. He enters into the darkness, our darkness. And on some glorious day He will call us into the Light…the Light of a New and Everlasting Life.

You can count on it.

Homily: Wednesday 9th Week of Ordinary Time

Scripture and the Power of God (Wednesday, June 5)

Readings: Tb 3:1-11a, 16-17a  • Psalm 25 • Mk 12:18-27

Today’s Gospel reading includes the verse that actually led me to want to study Sacred Scripture more deeply. It was about 40 years ago, and I recall hearing this passage read one morning at daily Mass. When I heard Jesus say: “Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” [Mk 12;24] I was truly surprised.

It was then I realized I was really no better than the Sadducees. I, too, didn't know the Scriptures as I should. Yes, Jesus told them flat-out that they were wrong. And after explaining why, in case they hadn’t understood Him, He told them once again they were wrong.

He didn’t mince words, did He? It would seem Jesus was more concerned with the truth than He was about preserving the Sadducees’ self-esteem. Setting an example for the Church, He didn’t hesitate to speak magisterially, to teach the truth, and to do so with authority. As many who heard him "were astonished at his teaching because He spoke with authority" [Lk 4:32

Well, this dialog between Jesus and the Sadducees made an impression on the younger me. I realized that I, too, really didn’t understand the Bible. Neither did I grasp the origin of the Church’s teachings in so many areas. And so began my life-long journey with Sacred Scripture. And I’m still being surprised by what I encounter.

Ironically, a surprise struck yesterday when I focused on the entirety of that verse. Listen again…“Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” [Mk 12:24]

I’d never really gotten past Jesus’s reference to “the Scriptures.” I’d never really thought very much about His reference to the “power of God.” And yet that reference is so central to what Jesus was teaching the Sadducees.

The Sadducees not only didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead; they believed in no afterlife. They didn’t believe in angels. They believed only in what they read in the Torah, the first five books of Scripture. Only the Torah was inspired.

Of course, Jesus goes right to the second of those books, the Book of Exodus, and shows them how life after death, the resurrection of the dead, is confirmed by the Word of God to Moses.

The Sadducees hadn’t recognized this, because they were very smart people, among the most educated of those first-century Jews; and so like many of today’s very smart people, they rejected the truth of the Resurrection because…well, because people simply don’t rise from the dead.

I suppose they’re right…people don’t rise from the dead. They don’t rise from the dead without God’s help; and that’s what Jesus was telling them.

You Sadducees have forgotten about the power of God. Do you really think God would create you in a wonderful act of personal love, and reveal Himself to you, and provide you with guidance and protection…do you really believe He’d do all this and then let you rot in a grave?

No, He loves you more than this. You have forgotten about the infinite power of your Creator.

Sometimes we forget as well. Sometimes we fall into despair because we don’t accept the power of God in our lives, the very power that brought each of us into being.

God’s power is working constantly throughout the world and in each of our lives. Take a moment today to thank God for that power.