I Have Been Called Many Things

Third Sunday of Easter

Gospel of John 21:1-19

I have been called many things; son, brother, husband, and father are the obvious ones. These titles are mostly universal and, to be honest, do not require a whole lot of effort to obtain. They are assigned more than they are earned. For example, I was born a son and I absolutely had no say in that. I only became a brother when my parents decided they wanted another. As I have learned, becoming a husband is way easier than staying one, and, at its most base, a father is simply a matter of biology.

Though these titles in and of themselves represent goodness and are honorable they are not the titles that I necessarily prefer. For example, I much more prefer when my wife calls me lover instead of husband. Dad carries much more meaning to me than father, and though Daddy typically results in me reaching for my wallet, it is a title that softens my heart and brings me joy.

I would argue that a title earned is more valuable than a title given. Unfortunately, not all earned titles are necessarily good titles.

As much as I enjoy the titles of husband, father, and son I have also earned the titles of liar, people-pleaser, and manipulator. These titles represent the worst of me and though I work very hard to ensure that these titles are no longer applicable, the reality is that for some people I will never be known as nothing but.

At the Sea of Tiberius, in today’s Gospel, Simon Peter, son of John, was also known by many titles. He was first a fisherman, then a disciple, then a coward, when he denied Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest, and finally, through the restorative mercy of Jesus, a shepherd. Not unlike you or I, Peter, had many titles both given and earned.

However, today’s Gospel is less about title and more about relationship. From the beginning, as Peter and his 6 companions insulated themselves from the events of the crucifixion in the comfort of a familiar environment engaged in a familiar task, Jesus sought them out. At day break Jesus stood on the shore of the sea, calling to them, waiting for them to come ashore. There he stood in the early dawn, before the world was fully awake, and waited… waited for his friends.

He waited for them because he loved them.

This Gospel account reminds us that Jesus did not come to earth to condemn it. He came out of love in order to express that love in the only way in which we, in turn, could love him, and love one another. Jesus called the seven men in the boat “children”. A term that implies not only intimacy but also authority. Jesus intentionally sought them out, much like the good shepherd searching for the lost sheep, not merely as a responsibility but because they belonged to him, and he did not want to lose a single one.

To view today’s Gospel as just a commentary on the inability of the disciples to fully grasp the purpose, mission, and meaning of the resurrection, or merely as the restoration of a fallen and disgraced Peter, is to ignore how desperately Jesus desires a personal, intimate, and real relationship with those who follow him.

How easy is it for us, today as modern-day followers of Christ, to forget that reality… the reality that Jesus loves us and wants to be our closest friend! Too often we get caught up in our titles. Our titles of husband, wife, mother, father, employee, boss, or friend. The responsibilities associated with those titles often cloud our understanding of God’s love for us, and, in turn, we readily abandon our relationship with him for the comfort of what is familiar.

Or, which, I believe is even more harmful, we convince ourselves that we are indeed unlovable. We adopt titles of shame and wear them like armor, falsely believing that God’s love is incapable of penetrating the cold hard sin and guilt which burdens us, bends our backs, darkens our vision, and weighs down our steps. Our false understandings and misguided intentions reinforce the deception that Jesus does not want to love us, or worse that he is incapable of loving us.

My brothers and sisters, it would be easy for us to get lost in the subtleties of today’s Gospel. To allow ourselves to be consumed with the symbolic details of the number of fish caught, the significance of the charcoal fire, the call to feed and tend sheep verses lambs, or the different meanings of the Greek words for love would be an opportunity to miss the beauty of the Risen Christ’s call to be his friend. The beauty of today’s Gospel is not in the language, but in the purpose. Jesus arrived on the shore of the Tiberius Sea that fateful morning not to chastise or to discipline. Rather, he arrived there that morning to call his disciples to be his friend. To fellowship with him, to share in a meal with him, and most importantly to follow him.

That reality is as true today as it was 2000 some odd years ago. He is calling to you, to me, to each and every one of us, regardless of title, or sin, or guilt, or shame. He is calling us to fellowship with him, to share in a meal with him, and most importantly to follow him. He is calling us to be his friend.

Not an Either-Or Scenerio

Holy Thursday

Gospel of John 13:1-15

I have desperately been seeking joy this Lenten season. I have been diligent, though not perfect, in my Lenten commitments and I have struggled to remain true to the spirit and purpose of the desert journey to which Holy Mother Church has called us all. Yet, despite my successes and/or failures these last 6 weeks have been a period of “blah”.

I share this not as a complaint, nor as a plea for sympathy.

Our Christian walk is not supposed to be easy… right? But, are we not all called to be joy filled? If you can appreciate those two things than you can appreciate my struggle this Lenten season.

As the Body of Christ, we have come to this somber celebration together. Tonight, Holy Thursday, begins the Holy Tridium, a Tradition of the Church that dates back to the earliest days of our faith. The oldest and official name of tonight’s celebration is, Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, as it commemorates the historical Gospel events surrounding the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. But, for those of us who may not be as official or as old, tonight is often referred to as the night of “washing feet.”

According to John’s Gospel Jesus interrupts the Passover supper, removes his outer garment, ties a towel around his waist and washes his disciples’ feet. This task was typically left to the lowliest of servants, yet Jesus, the master, assumed the role and took up the task; a task that had been left undone by all those present.

The Gospel clearly states this act of service came from love; “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end”, and from knowledge, “So fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power…” Jesus from his love, and in the knowledge of the will of the Father, gave us the gift of his example and served.

He also gave us a command, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

I wonder what would happen if I was as dedicated to obeying this command as I was to following the other, less difficult commands. Seriously, how would things be different if I were as committed to obeying the example of Jesus the servant as I was to going to Sunday mass, or receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, or observing days of fasting and abstinence, or adhering to other less significant local or cultural customs of our faith? Would my family life, my work life, and my parish life look and feel different? Would my thinking, my words, my actions, and most importantly my relationships change if I were as diligent to the service of others as I am to adhering to the basic rules of Catholicism?

How would your life be different? Would your home, your friends, your work environment, your parish be better or worse if you lived your life obediently to the command of Jesus; “as I have done for you, you should also do”? Would you find peace instead of discord? Would you find love instead of hate? Would you rejoice in struggle or despair? Would you find joy… instead of sorrow?

I do. I absolutely believe that following the command of Jesus to serve, to truly serve in love and in obedience to the will of the Father, would result in a joy filled life. I believe this because Jesus, on his final night with his disciples, gave them his greatest gifts; the gift of serving one another, and the gift of the Eucharist.

Was this an afterthought? Was this an, “oh, and by the way”? Of course not! Jesus in his final moments, knowing that he was leaving his disciples to do the work of building God’s Kingdom on earth, modeled for them the gift of service and instituted the gift of the Eucharist.

This was not an either-or scenario. His intention was not that we pick or choose one over the other. Rather, his instruction was that we lovingly do both. His gift of the Eucharist and his gift of service compels us to serve one another always in every way and to receive the Eucharist. We do these both as we live out our salvation and share the Good News of Jesus to those who are lost, hurting, and alone.

My brothers and sisters, we now begin the waiting. We now begin the waiting for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Tonight, the blessed sacrament will be processed and the altar will be stripped, and we will enter into a somber period of patient reflection as we await the joyous celebration of Easter. The celebration that indeed our Savior is risen. That indeed our Savior is alive and is preparing a place for us, and that indeed he will someday soon call us all to him. That, my friends, is indeed the very reason for our joy! Amen?

Palm Sunday

Gospel at the Procession Luke 19:28-40

Today is the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn week of the liturgical year. Today, Palm Sunday, we, as the body of Christ, enter into a period of sacred reflection in preparation for a joyous celebration. Some of us are urgently looking forward to a fresh hot cup of coffee, or the sweet delight of chocolate, or simply the joy of no longer having to deny everyday pleasures. Others are trusting the practices and disciplines that were newly adopted 5 weeks ago will now become habits and routine. Regardless of the reason of how we got here, this week is both the end and a beginning, and ultimately an opportunity to renew our hope.

Hope is defined as, “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust.” St. Paul the Apostle in his letter to the Romans encourages us to hope, because “hope does not disappoint”. An encouragement we pass on to others when we offer words of hope to one another.

Honestly, there are times when words of hope can feel empty, but in reality hope is be as filling as an Easter Day meal. Hope is intangible. It is hard to explain, but it is definitely a difference maker. One can be hopeful, and one can be hopeless, and there are time when all one has is hope. Hope cannot be traded, or sold, or even purchased, nor can it be stored, or preserved like grandmas canned peaches for use on a desolate day. Hope cannot be possessed, however it can be shared. It can be given away, freely without expectation of repayment or return.

Today’s Gospel reading at the Procession, St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ triumphant entry in the city of Jerusalem, is about hope. From the tethered colt, to the questioning owner, to the ground covered in cloaks of the multitude of disciples praising God, all bear witness to hope. Hope is an expectation, a desire for an outcome, an ending of a story, a result of an action, the fruit of a seed and all of Jesus’ disciples gathered that day and sang praises and shouted for joy, all in the name of hope.

When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees as to the behavior of his disciples, he responded by stating, “I tell you if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” A statement confirming that he is indeed the King, the Messiah foretold by the Old Testament prophets, for if his disciples ceased in celebrating his arrival, then all of creation would take their place. Jesus’ triumphal entry was accompanied by the very chorus of hope. A chorus of voices crying out, celebrating the expectation of and a desire for salvation; the salvation promised by God for his people, for all of God’s people.

However, hope does not come without trial. Hope does not come without effort. St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, “that affliction produces endurance, and endurance proven character, and proven character, hope.”

Are we personally without trial? Are we personally lacking in effort? Are we not experiencing affliction? Each of us, in his or her own way, in his or her own voice, can attest to the trial, the affliction, and the struggle that feelsl like the exact opposite of hope.

Can we not say the same about our parish? Is our parish without trial? Is our parish lacking in effort? Is this parish, this body of believers, not without affliction?

In both cases, in our personal lives and in our parish, there is no absence of obstacles, hardships, and discouragement. This Lenten season has been a unique struggle both personally and communally. Our personal desert experiences have been complicated by the struggles within the parish. As our hearts go out to all those who work diligently for the body of Christ, and most especially Fr. Raul in his recovery, and Fr. Carlos in the heavier burden he must bear, we cannot help but recognize the struggle and the difficulty which we, as a body of believers, are experiencing.

Yet, we hope. We do not abandon our faith in God and our love for one another. We refuse to let struggles divide us. In spite of all that has occurred, and all that has yet to occur, we do not lose our hope.

Today, this first day of Holy Week, in preparation for the recollection of our Saviors Passion, culminating in our Saviors Resurrection, let us too shout out in joy for the hope symbolized in the triumphant entry of Jesus. May we fix our eyes upon Jesus in joyful anticipation of the fulfillment of all that he promised as evidenced by his life, passion, death, and resurrection. Let us this day join our voices with that of all creation and proclaim our hope… our hope in our King and our Savior.

Much Like a Lemon Meringue Pie

5th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of St. John 8:1-11

Today’s Gospel in John is layered, intricate, and laced with strategically placed subtleties of truth, mercy, and calls to obedience. When the ingredients of this Gospel are mixed with the current realities of our lives, both personal and communal, it is any wonder that the resulting confectionary, much like a lemon meringue pie, is a startling combination of sour and sweet.

The sour of individuals who, in the name of righteousness, were willing to destroy human life. The sour of the sin of a woman condemned to bear the consequence of her transgression, as well as the transgression of the one who was not there. The sour of the law that required death and was manipulated in order to obscure mercy. And finally, the sour in the condemnation and self-righteous vindication on full display in the words, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So, what do you say?”

The sweetness of this Gospel is recognized in the patience of Jesus as he knelt and deliberately drew his finger through the dirt. The sweetness of God’s justice when Jesus calls all to examine themselves before casting judgement on another. And finally, the sweetness of mercy. The mercy that was present in the most intimate of moment between the Redeemer and the redeemed when Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

Is there a reason why the Pharisees brought before him this particular woman? Why did they drag this woman before Jesus as the instrument of their test?

According to John the Evangelist the words of the lawyers were very specific when they challenged Jesus. They stated, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.” The law did indeed call for death of those caught in the act of adultery. As it states in Book of Leviticus, “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” Yet where is the man? Why was he not brought before Jesus to stand in judgement? We do not know the answer nor is it safe to assume, except that the Pharisees were not interested in justice only in the entrapment of Jesus.

Regardless, I call your attention to the specific language of the Pharisees. The law to which the Pharisees referenced was not just a sentence to death but it was specific to the means of death; death by stoning. This Law of Moses was applied to a betrothed virgin. Only a betrothed virgins caught in the act of committing adultery were to be stoned.

Is it by accident that the Pharisees brought before Jesus a woman accused of the same transgression of which his mother, the Holy Virgin Mary herself stood once accused?

The Pharisees were hoping to discredit Jesus. To demonstrate that his words, his miracles, and his message of salvation were nothing more than the concoction of a deranged itinerant preacher. Instead, Jesus turned the tables and used their own self-righteousness and their perversion of the law and caused them to declare themselves unworthy of condemning another.

When we take the truths presented in this Gospel and attempt to find application for them in our modern-day lives, we experience no shortage of examples. We are able to call out the names of priests and bishops whose secret sins have been so publicly and rightly exposed. We can point fingers at governments, institutions, and corporate entities who have been called to justice for the atrocities and evils inflicted upon humanity in the name of an agenda, cause, or profit. We can even describe the faces of individuals, whom we know and call friends, whose sin has wounded, caused scandal, and created division and strife in our lives and even in our church. There are no shortage of examples of personal or corporate sin in this world… in our nation… in our community… in our church… and, in our own homes.

We have no choice but to respond to the sin around us, whether it be in our community, in our church, or in our own home. However, we must not respond to that sin in the manner of the Pharisees. We cannot cast our fellow brothers and sisters into judgement and ignore the mercy which we ourselves have so readily received. Yes, we must always be calling sinners to repentance and we too must always be seeking repentance.

We judge, we condemn, and we get angry with those who openly and visibly engage in sin. But Jesus did not. He called the woman to repentance and offered his mercy and admonished her to sin no more. Are you? Are you offering mercy instead of judgement? Are you condemning and dismissing or are you forgiving and inviting the sinner into your home and into your church?

As we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter let us take this moment to examine ourselves in the light of today’s Gospel. In the sour and sweet reality of living for Christ in a world that does not recognize him. May we respond to one another and to the sin of this world with kindness and mercy and me we endeavor to obey the words of Jesus, “Go and from now on do not sin anymore.”

The Prodigal Son

4th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of St. Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most well-known parables of Jesus, and not just in Christian circles. There are numerous cultural examples of this parable being re-told throughout history and in many different cultural mediums. Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, the popular movie Legends of the Fall, starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, and even the comic book heroes turned movie franchises, Iron Man and Bat Man, all capitalize on the theme of a rebellious child leaving home and reaping the consequences of the sins of pride and selfishness, then returning home in hopes of forgiveness and redemption. These are only a few examples of the continuous cultural relevance and meaning found in the themes presented in this parable.

As parents we read this parable seeking comfort and hope anticipating the return of our own prodigal children. As children, we find the constant and never wavering love of the Father to be a beacon calling us back home, trusting that we too will be forgiven and restored, in spite of our fall. As the faithful, we quietly examine ourselves in the example of the elder son hoping that we have not exchanged our relationship with the Father for orthodoxy and religiosity. And, as fellow pilgrims on this journey, we come together in solidarity knowing that we are not alone, nor are we unique, because we all have found ourselves playing the roles of rebellion and self-righteous indignation in this continuing story of total dependence upon the love and the inexhaustible mercy of God.

Today’s Gospel, the parable of the Prodigal Son, speaks to all of us regardless of our vocation, title, or position.

I confess to you today my sisters and brothers in Christ, that I am struggling. Struggling to resist the discouragement associated with disappointment. The disappointment that comes from failing expectations. Expectations, either rightly or wrongly, that influence my thoughts and govern my behavior. Thoughts and behaviors that neither reflect the man that I am seeking to be nor reflect my hope in others in becoming what I hope they should be.

Am I alone in my discouragement? I am not. And neither are you.

We must push on. We must never cease in becoming what God wishes us to be; his children in perfect and holy communion with him. Today’s Gospel is a parable of hope. Hope that regardless of how low we have fallen, or how far we have fled, or how cold our hearts have become that redemption and restoration are ever present and available to those who are willing to receive it.

May our disappointment be replaced with resolve. May our failures result in opportunity. May our expectations be rooted in love, and may our actions be expressed in mercy and kindness.  May our sin bring us to the cross of Jesus, and may our orthodoxy never replace our relationship.

This 4th Sunday of Lent, as we peer ahead to the joy and celebration of Easter, let us find encouragement in the words of the father in the parable, “we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”