Tuesday, March 20, 2018

5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle B - March 18, 2018

5th Sunday of Lent
Cycle B
March 18, 2018         
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville         8:00 am
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore  11:00am

Two Struggles

I struggle with two things in today’s gospel. Actually, it is two words.

1st Struggle: “Hate”

My first struggle is with the word hate.”

Jesus says, “Whoever hates their life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Well, I don’t hate my life; in fact, I like it.

I really enjoy good food, things like pasta and crab cakes. I enjoy reading mystery novels and theology books and I like to watch movies.

I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. And they are just some of the things that I really like about my life.

1st Resolution: Priority

So, what does Jesus mean when he talks about hating our life in this world”?

Scripture scholars tell us that he is talking about our priorities and choices. Jesus wants us to make him and his values a priority.

This means that we choose to follow the way of the gospel instead of other ways. For example, a child would take up for a classmate who is being bullied.

A teenager or young adult would refuse to experiment with drugs and might even choose other friends to hang out with. We adults would be faithful to our life commitments – to marriage and family, or for me, to priesthood.

So hating our life in this world” means that we make Jesus and his values our priority.  It means that we do this even when it is difficult and even when it goes against what others are doing.

2nd Struggle: “World”

Now I also struggle with the word world.

Jesus seems to speak negatively about the world.”  He talks about “the judgment of the world and “the ruler of the worldbeing driven out.”

I struggle with this because God made the world.  The Book of Genesis says that God looked at what he had made and saw that it was very good.

I find so much of creation beautiful and I find a lot of goodness in the world. And yet, this gospel seems to see the world as bad.

2nd Resolution: The Way

So again, what does Jesus really mean here?

Scripture scholars interpret this in context – and that’s really important for understanding the Scripture correctly – the context. The idea is that Jesus is not saying that the world itself is evil.

Instead, the word world, as Jesus uses it, means life not lived according to the way of the gospel – life not lived according to the way of the gospel. In other words, not hatingour lives.

So this would mean the child at school goes along with bullying a classmate or a teen tries drugs or we adults waver on our commitments when the grass looks greener on the other side or when the going gets tough. The word world means choosing something other than the way of the gospel.

Jesus wants us to realize that the world, again, as he uses the word, that the world can be in all of us. And it is from this that we need fuller conversion.


This takes me to one final thought that kind of wraps all of this together.

Jesus says today: “When I am lifted up, I will draw everyone to myself.” Here “lifted up” means Jesus being “lifted up” on the cross.

He says that this will draw “everyone” to himself. This will happen because his being “lifted up” shows us God’s unlimited love for us.

This is also what the word “glorified” means. Jesus says: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Being “glorified” means making God present. And this happens in the great demonstration of God’s love when Jesus is “lifted up” on the cross.

This love is so powerful that it moves us to repent of the elements of the world that are within us. It moves us to hate our lives, in the Scriptural understanding of that word, and to make Jesus and his way our priority.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle B - March 11, 2018

4th Sunday of Lent
Cycle B
March 11, 2018  
4:00pm and 8:00am at Saint Mary, Pylesville
11:15am at Saint Matthew, Baltimore

What If…?

What if we had a large and powerful low pressure system?

What if this happens in the late winter, instead of the late summer? The pressure inside this low pressure system drops dramatically.

This is something that the meteorologists – as I recently learned – something that the meteorologists call a bomb cyclone. What if this system sets up along the northeast coast of our country in early March?

There would be lots of rain or snow and very strong winds. Lots of trees and power lines would come down and lots of homes would be left without electricity. 

So, what if? And, of course, that “What if” happened just a week ago.

What If God…?

With that in mind, let’s look at another “What if.”

What if God were pure love? Simply love, love itself?

Saint John, the writer of today’s gospel, in a separate letter says three simple words: “God is love.” So, God is complete love and completely loving.

Well then, what if God loves the world? Saint John says this in today’s gospel: “God so loved the world.”

And again, what if God so loves the world that he becomes part of it? God, God the Son takes on our humanity?

Saint John also says this. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

I have to think that God does this to show us in a very personal way what his love is like. He also wants us to be certain and have no doubt about his love for us.

What If God the Son…”

Okay, but what if God the Son ends up being rejected, crucified and put to death?

Well, for sure, it’s hard to believe that God the Father – who is pure and complete love – it’s hard to believe that the Father wanted this to happen. And it’s hard to believe that the Father required this as the way to forgive or atone for human sinfulness.

No, a loving God would never expect this. So, this must have happened because of us.

What apparently happened is that we rejected a God who is not vindictive and punishing and excluding. We just couldn’t deal with a God who is pure love – who is compassionate, forgiving and including.

So, Jesus turned our picture of God upside down. If we accepted Jesus, we would have to re-think how we saw God and even what we ourselves were to be like and how we were to live.

The result was that we tried to do way with the Son, just get rid of him. But, of course, the Son, being God, being pure and complete love, patiently endured what we did to him and even forgave us as he was dying.


Of course, I am really saying that all of these “what ifs” have happened – much like that storm happened last week.

And I am even saying that these “what ifs” are still happening. God remains loving of each one of us every moment of our lives.

This is the Good News – that’s what the word Gospel means – the Good News of Jesus, the Son. It is the core message of the New Testament and sometimes this gets ignored or distorted, but it is there.

And what this message does is remove fear and unnecessary guilt and shame. Our primary feeling about God no longer has to be fear – being afraid of God.

And our primary feeling about ourselves no longer has to be guilt or shame. Now, we can feel ennobled and worthy as persons.

Why? Because we are loved; God loves us and God is love.

And now we can feel confidence and trust in our relationship with God. Why? Because God is love and God loves us.

That is the Good News of Jesus Christ. And the one sentence in today’s gospel leads me to all of this: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle B - March 4, 2018

3rd Sunday of Lent
Cycle B
March 4, 2018      
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 9:30am and 11:15am

Artistic Minimalism

In the world of art, there is a type of painting called minimalism.

My understanding is that minimalism began as an artistic style in the 1960s.  These artists depict an object – like an apple –in the starkest possible way.

They might paint a few red dots and some rounded lines more or less in the shape of an apple. But they would not represent the apple itself.

Minimalists depict only the bare essentials. They paint a minimum and that is why this style of art is called minimalism.

Religious Minimalism

Today’s Scripture passages address the issue of religious minimalism.

The Old Testament passage gives us something very familiar – the Ten Commandments.  These commandments have formed the foundation of Judeo-Christian morality for the past 3,000 years.

They are important and we need to obey them.  But, these commandments are also minimalist and here is why I say that.

Notice in today’s gospel that Jesus is dealing with some people who are in the temple. They are obeying the basic commandment of keeping the Sabbath holy.

After all, they are there, in the temple. But, they are really not putting themselves into the prayer.

Instead, they are absorbed in the merchandising that is associated with temple sacrifice. So, they are keeping the religious law as it is literally written, but they are not observing its spirit.

Jesus gets angry with them.  Why? Because they are religious minimalists.

Something like minimalist painters, they are only observing the law in a bare-bones way and have not put their heart into it.  Jesus calls us to much more than this religious minimalism

Religious Maximalism

We might say that he calls us to a religious or spiritual maximalism.

He wants us, for example, to look at the Ten Commandments and really put our heart into them. He wants us to go beyond the letter of the law and embrace its spirit.

Jesus wants us to do as much good as possible. That’s what I mean by a spiritual maximalism.

Let’s look at just two of the commandments as examples of this.

Two Commandments

The commandment says: “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.” 

The minimalist approach says: I come to Mass every Sunday. The maximalist approach says: I come to Mass and try to put myself into it.

I join in the prayers and try to take in what the readings are saying. I try to be aware of the Lord’s presence when I receive Communion.    

And beyond that, I also try to pray every day and make every day a holy day. So, this is an illustration of the maximalist approach.

Let’s take one more commandment: “You shall not kill.”

The minimalist approach says: I would never think of killing or even physically harming another person. For the maximalist approach today, in our year 2018, this commandment is nudging at least me in a specific way.

I, personally, am thinking about the killing going on in our country. I am thinking that the commandment “You shall not kill” has something to say about the number of killings of adults and school children that is gong on.

So, I personally feel the need to look reasonably and calmly at where we are with some of our laws on firearms. I feel the need to look at existing background checks and see if we need stronger ones.

And I feel the need to question whether owning assault weapons should be part of the civil rights of the ordinary citizen. This, for me, is an illustration of the maximalist approach to the commandment about killing.


I want to conclude by looking at the conclusion of today’s gospel.

It says that some people “began to believe in Jesus because they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them because he understood human nature.”

Jesus sensed that they liked his healings of people—that is what is meant here by “signs.” But he also understood that they would probably revert to their pattern of observing the letter and not the spirit of the law.

They would go back to a minimalist approach and not accept the challenge of a maximalist approach. The passage leaves us with the question: what will we do today?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle B - February 25, 2018

2nd Sunday of Lent
 Cycle B
February 25, 2018       

A Parishioner Transformed

In one of the parishes where I was pastor, I began to notice a man who would sometimes come to Mass.

For our purposes today, let’s just call him Wayne.  He appeared to be a few years younger than I am.

Wayne had long, almost shoulder-length hair and always wore a baseball cap.  He dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt or sweat shirt.

I wondered who Wayne was and I perceived him as a bit different from most people his age.  And then, one day I got to meet him.

We talked and before long we started to meet together at times over a coffee and a bagel in the morning.  I discovered a person with a rich life experience – a marine who had served in Vietnam, a husband and father of four children. 

I discovered a person who read and thought deeply about things and was every bit my match intellectually.  In fact, he has a Doctorate in International Studies. 

He and I have become good friends.  So, Wayne was always Wayne, but my perception of him really got transformed.

Jesus Transformed

This personal experience helps me to appreciate what happens in today’s gospel.

Peter, James, and John had already seen a lot of Jesus.  They and others were amazed at his wisdom and insight in the synagogue. (Mark 1.27)

They had already seen him heal a paralyzed man.  To that, some people said, “We have never seen anything like this.” (Mark 2.12)

They had seen him calm the stormy sea.  They themselves had said, “Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4.41)

So, they had seen all of this, but they still didn’t really get it.  They still didn’t see him for who he really was.

And then it suddenly happens on this mountain.  It all comes together for them, something like my experience with Wayne. 

They see him as the One who brings to fulfillment the Ten Commandments that Moses had given.  They see him as the One promised by the prophet Elijah.

They even see him as the beloved Son of God.  They finally get it.

This is the divine, it is God breaking into the world in this person.  So, much as with me and my friend Wayne, Jesus was still the same Jesus, but now the disciples’ perception of him is transformed and they see him for who he really is. 

Our Transformation

This transformation in the disciples’ perception leads me to this idea.

We are to see our time on earth as a continual process of transformation.  We are to keep our eyes on Jesus and allow ourselves to be transformed little by little into his likeness.

This work is life-long and it ends only when someday we see God face to face.  This, I believe, is the way to understand our earthly journey and very importantly, it is also the way for us to look at one another. 

None of us is finished with our transformation in Christ.  The important thing for all of us is that we are looking at Jesus – as Peter, James and John were – and that we are in the process of being transformed.

Pope Francis and Transformation

One final idea! 

I think this understanding of our need for ongoing transformation lies behind Pope Francis’ basic approach. And I find his approach very refreshing. 

This is why Pope Francis does not judge people.  He made that now famous statement: “Who am I to judge?”

This is why he is reluctant to draw insider/outsider boundaries.  It’s why he is reluctant to exclude people from being an active part of the Church.

Instead, Pope Francis looks beyond differences and looks more deeply at people.  He sees himself – and I think he is urging us to see ourselves – as one with others, regardless of differences. 

He is calling us to see everyone – beginning with ourselves – as in the process of being transformed in Christ.  If we are, that’s enough. 

We can gather here and pray and worship together – one in Christ.  So, that’s my take on today’s gospel!