Tuesday, December 6, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 4, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent
Cycle A
December 4, 2016       

 

Forest Fires


I have never seen a forest fire, except on TV news reports.

But I would say that they look fearsome.  In recent years, there have been some very large fires in our country.

These forest fires can have several causes.  They can be intentional or accidental.

An intentional fire can be lit by someone who may or may not realize the impact of what they are doing.  An accidental fire can be caused by a campfire that is not fully extinguished.

Whether intentional or accidental, a forest fire can cause great destruction.  There can be great loss of trees and of personal property and even of human life.

The Promise of Forest Fires

An amazing truth of nature is that there is promise and hope hidden within the very destruction caused by a forest fire.

New growth can and will happen.  The timeline for new growth after a fire varies, but one thing is certain.

The ashes become a nutrient for new growth.  Eventually, new shoots of life will sprout from the earth or even from the stumps of trees.

This is the image that Isaiah uses in our first reading.  Isaiah compares the recent kings of Israel – the line of kings that began with Jesse, the father of King David – he compares them to the stump of a tree.

These recent kings have been so weak that they have brought devastation to the country, much like a forest fire.  And yet, Isaiah says with beautiful alliteration, “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.”

Isaiah offers promise and hope.  New life will eventually emerge here much as from a forest fire.

Our Forest Fires

Now we can also experience forest fires in our own personal lives.

In a sense, some of them are intentional – meaning that we bring them upon ourselves – and some are accidental – meaning that they just happen to us.  Our intentional fires might result from speaking hurtful words to somebody, or from not applying ourselves to our school work, or from falling away from God.

Our accidental fires might come from the death of a loved one, or from being bullied in school or put down at work.  All of these personal forest fires can also be destructive.

They can destroy relationships and leave us alone and lonely.  They can destroy our immediate future and leave us feeling hopeless. 

They can destroy any inner sense of God’s presence and leave us feeling lost.  And they can destroy self-esteem and leave us feeling worthless.

The Promise of Our Forest Fires

But, as with the forest fires of nature, there is also promise and hope.

We can live in the hope of a shoot sprouting from a stump.  This hope is a core message of Advent – the hope of regeneration, of new life springing from destruction.

Usually, we cannot leave this totally up to God.  We must do our part too. 

So we may need to own up to our own behavior and even connect with a counselor to assist us in changing our ways and rebuilding a relationship.  We may need to work day by day to develop our potentials and build a future. 

We may need to try the Sacrament of Reconciliation and allow our sense of oneness with God to be rekindled. And we may need to rediscover our own self-worth by being with persons who build up and not tear down. 

So yes, hope is not passive.  It demands that we do our part.


But we do this because we have the promise and hope extended by Isaiah and by Jesus.  With this, our forest fires can give way to new life: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - November 27, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent
Cycle A
 

November 27, 2016

Darters and Strollers


Well, here we are, in the busiest shopping days of the year.

Several years ago an author named Robert Winters made some observations about shoppers during these days of the Christmas season.  He describes two kinds of shoppers in the malls.

First, there are the darters.  These people are walking along and then something catches their eye.

The darters abruptly change direction and dart over to look at a Keurig coffee maker or a Hollister shirt or whatever it is.  They move so quickly that you have to put on the brakes real fast to avoid bumping into them.

And then there the strollers.  These people walk like a bridal party slowly making their way down the aisle.

The strollers are creeping along, taking in each piece of merchandise.  They are just savoring every item they see.     

Robert Winters says that the darters and the strollers have one thing in common.  Both of them are so wrapped up in the things they are seeing that they are unmindful of and not heeding the other shoppers around them.

Today’s Gospel


Winters’ observations help us to appreciate today’s gospel.

Jesus refers back to the time of Noah.  He says: “In those days people were eating and drinking and marrying, up to the day Noah entered the ark. 

“They knew nothing until the flood came and swept them away.  So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man.”

Now there is nothing wrong with eating and drinking and getting married.  But apparently they were doing all of this without being alert to the coming flood – something like the darters and strollers in the malls.

Jesus also says: “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding meal; one will be taken and one will be left.”

The idea here is that those who are taken and ready for the Lord may not be doing anything different from the others.  But they are doing things with a different awareness.

They are what I call “heeders” – spelled H-E-E-D-E-R-S.  Unlike the darters and the strollers, they are heeding both God and those around them as they do their jobs or shop or whatever.

Heeders


I’ve got a few ideas on what might it means, practically speaking, to be a heeder rather than a darter or a stroller.

Heeders reserve some time each day for prayer.  They maintain some inner space for quiet, for being in touch with God.

In this way, heeders remain aware of the spiritual.  They see all the items and decorations as good but they remain aware that only our relationship with God matters in the long run.

Heeders also probably try to grow in their faith.  They don’t stay stuck in the understanding of God that they learned as children.

Heeders are awake to what God is saying to them right now in the gospels.  They are awake to new possibilities maybe about God’s unconditional love or about our response of social justice, things like that.

Then heeders carefully reserve time for their husband or wife or children or close friend.  They are not submerged in their job or self-absorbed in some way.

Heeders are attentive to persons, the important persons in their lives and those who are with them at any given moment.  They stay attentive to persons as making up what life is really all about.

And finally, heeders care for those in need.  They don’t blame the poor for their plight.

Instead, heeders are alert to the pain of the sick, to the suffering of the depressed, or the desperation of the hungry or homeless.  They are alert to Jesus being present in these persons.

Conclusion


So, the message today: don’t be a darter or a stroller.  Don’t be just wrapped up and absorbed in the stuff of the season.

Instead, be a heeder.  We may be doing some of the same things as everyone else, but remain aware, awake, attentive, and alert to what really

matters.   

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Solemnity of Christ the King, Cycle C - November 20, 2016

Solemnity of Christ the King

Cycle C
November 20, 2016

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4pm

Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11am

I Do Not Fear


I want to tell you something about myself today, and it is this.

I do not fear God.  I do not fear the Lord Jesus.

In today’s gospel, two other men are being crucified with Jesus and one of them asks the other, “Have you no fear of God?”  That man never responds.

My answer is: “No!  I do not fear God or the Lord Jesus.”  When I was a child, growing up in the 1950s, I did fear God. 

In my faith formation or religion classes, the primary image of God that I got was as a judge.  God was a stern figure, watching, maybe just waiting for me to do something wrong.

And I definitely got it that God would punish me and could even send me to hell.  So, as I look back, I feared God. 

From Fear to Revere


But, it all changed in my college and young adult years.

What happened is that my faith formation got focused on the gospel.  I started reading the gospels and the center of my faith became Jesus. 

And slowly but surely, my image of God and my feelings about God changed.  I came to see God – the Father – as a caring parent who only wants what is best for me. 

I came to see God as leading me to the fullest life possible.  I came to experience God as being very patient with me – always forgiving and giving me another chance if I fouled up. 

I realized that in Jesus, God is with me – my friend on the journey of life.  And because of all of this, for me it was no longer fear that led me to do or not do things.

I now positively wanted to live with God and follow the wonderful way of Jesus.  So, it is no longer a negative thing but a positive thing.

I do not fear God; I revere God.  I do not fear; I revere.

Revere in Scripture

    
I think that Saint Paul in our second reading helps to convey this sense of revering and definitely not fearing God.

For example, Paul says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.”  I mean – isn’t that amazing?

In seeing Jesus, we get to know God – who God is and what God is like.  We get to realize what a caring parent and close friend God is to us.

And then Paul makes the identity of Jesus even clearer.  He says that “in him the fullness [of God] was pleased to dwell and to reconcile all things for him…”

So in Jesus, God doesn’t distant us from himself or condemn us.  Quite the opposite – in Jesus, God reconciles us and draws us close to himself – now isn’t that amazing? 

The Calling to Revere


So for me, it automatically follows: I do not fear; I revere.

I positively make the Lord Jesus the center of my life.  And he then becomes the positive force for my life.

And, by the way, I think that the man who asks, “Have you no fear of God?” really means the same thing.  He does not fear God; he reveres God. 

I say this because he speaks so freely and personally to Jesus and calls him by his name “Jesus.”  The name “Jesus” means “God saves” and this man believes that God or Jesus will save him.

So, he does not fear.  He reveres God or Jesus.

And that, my friends, is the kind of faith that the gospel lifts up for all of us.  It is a mature and confident faith, a healthy and holy faith.

And so, I invite you to that and invite you, if you are comfortable with it, to join me in saying: “I do not fear; I revere the Lord.”  Let’s say it together:   “I do not fear; I revere the Lord.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - November 6, 2016

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle C
November 6, 2016
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore


A Strange Regulation


In the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the first five books of the Bible, there is a rather strange regulation.

The rule is about what is to happen if a husband dies, leaving his wife widowed and with no children.  The rule says that the deceased husband’s brother is to marry this woman.

Hopefully they will have a child and this will be a way for the name of the deceased husband to continue.  It is the only way they could imagine that he would be able to live on after death.

Dispute over Resurrection


Now to us that ancient rule sounds very strange and, in fact, the Jewish people seldom observed it.   

But, it forms the background to today’s gospel.  A group of the Jewish religious leaders are bothered by Jesus’ talk about resurrection.

They cannot accept this because it is not in the first five books of the Bible.  So they concoct an extreme example of a man who dies and, in succession, each of his six brothers marries his widow and each of them also dies.

All of the brothers die childless.  So these religious leaders ask Jesus who will be this woman’s husband in the resurrection.

They feel certain that this extreme scenario will discredit Jesus’ teaching. Well, Jesus doesn’t comment about the Old Testament rule but he does teach some things about resurrection.

1.    Resurrection as Transformation


Most importantly, Jesus says that resurrected life will not be just a continuation of this life.

For example, he says that in resurrected life people do not marry.  Now let’s be clear Jesus is not putting down marriage.

He actually lifts up the dignity of marriage.  Here Jesus is simply saying that resurrected life is very different from this life.

We will be transformed.  We will have a transformed life in and with God and we can’t think about this just in terms of our human life experience.

2.    Resurrection through Relationship


And then, Jesus makes it clear that resurrection happens through our relationship with God – our relationship with God.

Jesus says the Lord is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.  These great religious figures are dead but Jesus uses the present tense in speaking of them – the Lord is their God right now.

So Jesus is saying that God’s relationship with them continues on.  The idea is that God’s love for us and God’s relationship with us has no end. 

This means that we are to do whatever we can to live in this relationship – by coming to know Jesus more and more in the Gospels and by praying and by following his way.  So, this relationship with God that we have right now leads to resurrected life in the future.

3.    Resurrection through Respect


And then the last thing that Jesus teaches here is a bit hidden but it is still present.

 Notice that Jesus completely ignores that ancient rule of a brother marrying his deceased brother’s widow.  Jesus just ignores this and in doing that, he teaches something.

That ancient rule was very male-centered.  It was focused only on the husband and his being able to live on in some way through offspring. 

The rule showed no respect for the woman, the wife.  It treated her as an object.

In not even acknowledging this rule, Jesus is sending a message.  We are to be respectful, to have relationships of respect – in words and in actions – respect especially for women, and in truth for everyone.

This is a living out of our relationship with God who respects each person equally and this is something we still need to be reminded of – even right now in this election here in America.  Living with respect for women and for all persons nourishes our relationship with God right now and opens us to resurrection in the future.

Conclusion


So that’s my take on this passage of Scripture.


I hope it is helpful for all of you.  Amen!