Saturday, February 16, 2019

2/17/19 -- 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Jesus’ words in the gospel today seem backwards to us. Blessings to the poor but woes to the rich. We all want to win the lottery. Blessings to the hungry but woes to those who have their fill. No one wants to go hungry. Blessings to those who weep and woes to those who laugh. Blessings to the rejected and woes to the popular.

Whenever Jesus’ teachings confuse us, I believe it is our task to search for the deeper spiritual truths found in those teachings.

What does it mean to be poor? Poor in spirit? A feeling of poverty, like something is missing. Lonely. Inadequate. Having poor self esteem. Not being courageous enough.

People who are rich are sometimes poor because they already have all they want and are still not happy.

When we’re are feeling this way, Jesus says we are blessed. Why? Because we can recognize our reliance on God. We can turn to Jesus and ask him to make us rich in the things that matter to God.

What does it mean to be hungry? Maybe we have a hunger for something other than food. Feeling empty inside. A longing. A desire. Having a sense of not being fulfilled. A hunger and thirst for justice, perhaps, or for a meaningful life.

People who are full are sometimes empty inside because being full might not take away the emptiness inside.

When we’re feeling this way Jesus says we are blessed. Why? Because we can ask Jesus to fill our hungers with whatever is lacking.

We know what it means to be hated or ridiculed or rejected. We know what it feels like to lick our wounds, not fitting in, treated like an outcast, not knowing where to sit during lunch at school.

People who are popular are sometimes sad because all their friends are only social, the kind who disappear when things get rough.

How can Jesus say we are blessed when this happens? Maybe Jesus is saying, “I love you just the way you are. Stop trying to be someone else just to fit in. Follow me rather than seeking acceptance from the crowd.”

If we can embrace poverty and hunger and rejection, then we are on our way to finding riches and fulfillment and acceptance.

Jeremiah says to trust in the Lord, to hope in the Lord. So we ask the Lord to make us rich in kindness and grace and mercy. We ask the Lord to fill us with goodness and compassion. And we ask the Lord to sooth the wounds of rejection and ridicule. In this way, we are truly blessed. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

2/10/19 -- 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Individuals throughout all of history have been called by God to take on special roles, special tasks. It is almost universal that those people God chooses are reluctant. They believe they aren’t brave enough, they aren’t strong enough, they aren’t worthy enough. 

But then something happens, a change occurs. There is an experience they have that enables them to accept the invitation from God to do the work they are called to do.

It seems that the Holy Spirit awakens an energy, something in the human soul that has been there all along, but needs to be challenged, needs to be brought to life. 

It’s as though God is saying: “Don’t worry about where you’ve been. Don’t worry about what you’ve done. I can take care of that.” 

In the first reading, the angel takes a burning ember and places it against the lips of the Prophet Isaiah. It’s as if the angel is saying: I am burning your lying lips so you know that’s over. It’s in the past. Don’t worry about your past sins anymore. I want you to be able to feel the strength of the Spirit working in you.

We have an image of a repentant sinner being called to be an instrument of God, being called to holiness. Repentant sinners often have a sense of being touched by God and transformed by God. 

In the second reading Paul tells us that many have been called to follow Jesus. And those who are called have been strengthened and encouraged. 

In the beginning, Paul was a person who was constantly persecuting the church. Then the Spirit came upon him blinding his eyes. Only then is Paul able to see that he’s been doing the opposite of what God is asking. Now Paul is going to have the wisdom and the courage to be an Apostle doing the work that God has called him to do.

In the gospel, Jesus is calling ordinary people from their ordinary lives to become extraordinary disciples. He does this by simply giving advice about where to catch fish. Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your calling, at your command, I will lower the nets.

Peter senses that Jesus is not just an ordinary man. There is something about Jesus that is more than he had ever experienced. All of the disciples felt the power of the Spirit working through Jesus. 

The first thing Peter thinks is: Get away from me Lord because I am not worthy of being around someone like you. I am not good enough.

But Jesus says to Peter: Look, I see you as someone extraordinarily good. I see you as someone who has the potential to follow me. I am calling you to your destiny. I want you to live the life that I am calling you to live.

Jesus wants us to recognize our humanity. That we are basically selfish. That we are basically flawed. And that we make choices that are not necessarily wise. 

We are like Isaiah, we lie. We are like Paul, sometimes choosing the wrong path. And we are like Simon Peter, thinking we are not good enough or holy enough.

That’s when Jesus says to us: That’s ok. That’s what it means to be human, but I would like you to step out in trust. I am inviting you to follow me. I am inviting you to trust the power of the Spirit that I send you.

Individuals throughout all of history have been called by God to take on special roles. It is almost universal that those called are reluctant, including ourselves.

If Simon Peter and Paul and Isaiah can follow the Lord, then so can we.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

2/3/19 -- 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

We endure many difficult things in our lives: stress, poor health, bad habits, addictions, death, depression, anger, hatred, marital strife, jealousy, insomnia, anxiety, and the list could go on and on. 

The Prophet Jeremiah is told that he is going to endure many difficult things. Why did God tell this to Jeremiah? Because the Lord God needed Jeremiah to be strong.

The Lord God says to Jeremiah: I formed you in the womb. Before you were born, I knew you. I dedicated you. I appointed you. As if I’d leave you crushed. I am with you to deliver you.

The people of Corinth had a difficult time too. They were people who were jealous, pompous, inflated, rude, quick to judge and quick to lose their tempers.

Even Jesus runs into trouble. The people from his hometown turn their backs on him. They are jealous. They are worried about their own interest. They are really angry. So angry, they wanted to kill him.

If we are honest, we know that all of us in some way have a difficult time and we often have these same bad attitudes. We are not really all that honest. We are prone to jealousy. 

We can be a bit pompous and full of ourselves. We tend to seek our own interests and are quick tempered when things don’t go our way.

How can be become strong like the prophet Jeremiah? How can we become strong like Jesus? Where does our strength come from?

It’s clear from the first reading that Jeremiah’s power has to come from God. It’s also clear in the Gospel that Jesus’ power comes from his divinity, from being God’s only begotten son.

We can get tied up in the illusion that we can somehow take the Spirit of God and control it, using it for our own purposes.

But Jesus gives himself over completely. He lets himself be filled with the Holy Spirit. He gives himself over to the divine power working in him. So does the Prophet Jeremiah.

How do we become powerful in the Spirit? Saint Paul says to let the Spirit of God fill us with love, love that is kind and caring.

Not pompous, but self giving. Not jealous, but kind and caring. Not inflated, but humble. Not rude, but loving and forgiving. Not quick tempered, but patient.

Like Jeremiah and like Jesus, the Lord God knows us, the Lord God dedicates us, the Lord God appoints us. As if the Lord God would crush us. Rather, the Lord is with us, to deliver us from all the difficult things we endure in life.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

1/27/19 -- 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Imagine if an enemy invaded our city, destroyed most of the homes and sent us all to live in exile. While in exile we were not allowed to practice our religion. Then after a few generations, our children’s children were allowed to return to find this beautiful church in ruins.

Among the ruins they find a Lectionary containing our scripture readings; readings they have never heard before. That’s what’s happening in the Book of Nehemiah. The people are hearing the Law of the Lord read to them for the first time. 

They understand that the scroll contains divine wisdom. They commit themselves to following the Law of the Lord. In their attempt to follow the Law of the Lord, they struggle with the law and fall short.

Isn’t it the same with us. We understand that God calls us to do something or that God asks us to live a certain way or that God wants us to answer a certain call and we can’t do it. It’s just too hard.

There is some guilt or shame or sadness over that simple fact that God is asking something of us and we can’t do it.

The disciples were ordinary folk like us. They had a very difficult time doing what Jesus asked of them as well. They failed pretty regularly. This is certainly not a reason to lose hope.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me. We were all anointed at our baptism, The Spirit descended upon each of us bringing divinely given gifts and talents, empowering us and giving each of us a task to fulfill.

When someone is anointed, it means that they have been given a gift. When the Lord anoints, the Lord empowers. The Holy Spirit is divine power dwelling in us. We are always conscious of our weakness, but we must also be aware that the power of Jesus resides in us. 

The church represents the collection of all of our divinely giving gifts. Together, Saint Paul says, we are like a body, different people with different gifts all working together as one. 

All of us have a small part to play and each part is essential. All of us together make up the one Body of Christ.

We may be weak. We may come up short. We may even fail. But we are all still anointed, We are all still gifted. We are all still empowered.

And we too hear the words written on the scroll. Those words say to us, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon you, because the Lord has anointed you. Do not be saddened by this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.” 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

1/20/19 -- 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Someone else will do it. Someone else will take care of it. We see a garbage can that’s been blow into the street and we drive around it. Someone else will get it.

We hear a pitch for volunteers for some worthwhile event and we convince ourselves that someone else will step forward. We see someone struggling and we think someone else will help.

We see something that could be a potential hazard at the store and we say someone else will report it. Someone else will do it. Sadly it’s become a kind of mantra in our lives. We could even say it’s a sort of prayer of inconsiderateness.

Jesus could have taken this approach at the Wedding at Cana. Some commentators say that Jesus could be the very reason they ran out of wine.

Mary was invited to the wedding. And since Jesus was Mary’s son, he was invited as well. But he came with his disciples in tow. They were hungry and thirsty from their journey. They could be the very reason the wine ran out.

Mary knows this so she tells her son to take care of the problem. He cannot say to his mother, “Someone else will do it. Someone else will take care of it.”

Saint Paul says that there are different gifts God gives to us. And these gifts are spread over the entire human family.

No one person has every gift. And God doesn’t gift just a few. God gifts us all. Some people have patience. Some people have a very generous heart. Some are intellectually gifted. Some are good listeners. And so on and so forth.

Every single person has some unique God-given gift that no one else has. We are one of a kind, each and every one of us with specific gifts.

There are some things, done certain ways, in certain circumstances that can only be done by me or through me. There are some things, done certain ways, in certain circumstances that can be done only by you or through you.

There are certain things that God wants and expects and hopes for the world that might never become a reality if we don’t do it.

Someone else will do it. Someone else will take care of it. Possibly not. At least not in the exact same way you or I can give our unique God given talents, gifts given which fit each of us perfectly.

When it comes to our God given gifts, Mary looks at her son and says to us, “Do whatever he tells you, because someone else will simply not do.”

Saturday, January 12, 2019

1/13/19 -- Baptism of the Lord

Scripture Readings

Baptism brings about belonging. John baptizes with water. The people who are baptized by John belong to him. They are his followers; they are his disciples. 

We are baptized by the priest of the church who stands in the place of Jesus. So we are baptized by Jesus. We are his; we belong to him. 

By virtue of our baptism we are Jesus’ disciples. And John is very clear that Jesus baptizes with fire and the Holy Spirit.

The baptism of fire burns away our impurities and purifies us. A refiner’s fire is used to make gold and silver pure. The impurities are burned away leaving only the precious metals.

When we are baptized in Jesus’ fire our sinfulness is burned away leaving only what is precious, leaving only what is full of grace.

Sometimes we get overwhelmed by our sins. We think we are not worthy and cannot be holy. Or we think that we have to overcome our sins alone. Jesus’ baptism of fire burns away our impurities, burns away our sins, so that, instead of being overwhelmed by them, we can slowly, over time, be purified and move away from our sins.

The baptism in the Spirit ignites a fire in our souls and inflames us with a zeal and a passion for the things of God.

The Spirit empowers us to reveal God’s love and grace to the world. The Spirit enables us to be pastoral and kind.

The Spirit stirs up in us a renewal that starts within. This renewal gives us a new heart and leads us to a new life.

This new life in the Spirit enables us to be more like Jesus, to act with charity like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to serve like Jesus, to love like Jesus.

Baptism is about belonging and John baptizes Jesus with water. But Jesus baptizes us with fire and the Holy Spirit.

We pray that the Spirit and the flame ignite a passion for God in each of our hearts now and throughout this New Year.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

1/6/19 -- Epiphany

Scripture Readings

The Prophet Isaiah says that darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the peoples. The prophecy from Isaiah sounds like it could be made for our times. 

There is darkness all around. Wildfires, storms, our government has shutdown. We are in the middle of a global trade war. The economic disasters of central and south America have caused a wave of migrants seeking work.

There is a lawless feeling that we are right on the edge of riots and protests. We live in a world of violence with many things in our lives that cause great anxiety.

But the Prophet Isaiah also says, “Your light has come. Raise your eyes and look about for upon you the Lord shines.”

The wise men looked to the heavens and saw the star at its rising. They were overjoyed at seeing the star. They searched diligently for the child. They brought treasures and did homage.

The wise men are truthseekers, star gazers. They are very much focused on listening to voices above them and inside them. They listen to and interpret dreams. They are constantly listening to the deepest voice within.

We see them looking to the heavens, to something outside themselves, to something beyond them, higher than them.

They are extraordinarily sensitive to what is going on. They listen and watch and pay attention.

The wise men see a star. The star says “Look I am here. I want to show you things. I want you to open your eyes to see that there is meaning and purpose and direction in all this chaos.”

There is chaos all around them but God is still with them. God is there. God is in their midst.

The Prophet Isaiah says to you, “Raise your eyes. Look, see, search.” 

The star brings a light that is inviting us to see something extraordinarily different. The star is inviting us to see that in the midst of chaos, God is there. 

Even though there is darkness all around, the incredible light has come into the world to change everything.