We can no longer afford to vacate, ignore, or diminish our responsibility to be holy men and women of God

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 7: 31-37

As some of you may have already heard me say, almost every Sunday since the beginning of this liturgical year, the Gospel of St. Mark is my favorite Gospel. St. Mark’s use of direct language, the attention given to minute detail, and the intentional and deliberate revelation of Jesus as the Son of God resonate and connect with me in a unique and personal way. Today’s Gospel is the perfect example of these three characteristics, and once again, you, my brothers and sisters, get to listen to me blather on about my affection for this particular Gospel.

We heard in today’s Gospel the clear and concise description of Jesus’ journey from one location to another. We also learn that Jesus’ fame precedes him from region to region as he is immediately greeted by people who bringing him a deaf man to be healed. Mark describes the method by which Jesus healed the afflicted man and then Jesus cautioned those who witnessed this healing to share with no one what they have observed. All of this could be used as a summary and example of the writing style and intent and purpose of St. Mark’s Gospel.

However, as much as I do enjoy a good literary analysis of the Gospel, it does me little good if I ignore the truth, and the relevance, and the message. It is easy for me, and even perhaps all of you, my fellow pilgrims on this journey of salvation, to consume ourselves with the process only to lose ourselves by forgetting the purpose. The Gospel message for us today is exactly that reminder; we, as the Mystical Body of Christ, must never get so caught up in the methods of our faith and forget the purpose and reason for our faith.

Today’s Gospel of Mark describes what happens as soon as Jesus enters a new place, “And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.” I draw your attention to the fact that Mark describes them as “people” and not followers of Jesus. Those who brought the deaf man, a man with need, were not part of the inner circle. Throughout the Gospel, Mark is deliberate in identifying the “followers of Jesus”, meaning those who traveled with him, and those who were not part of the inner circle.

When Jesus entered the district of Decapolis his name and his reputation were already known. The people had heard of Jesus but had not yet seen Jesus. They possessed a hope. A hope that came from hearing, a hope that came through the witness and testimony of others, a hope that was the result of someone telling them about Jesus.

At risk of offending, I dare say that we, modern-day followers of Jesus, have, at times, been at best lackadaisical and at worst derelict, in our responsibility of telling others about the Jesus. It is not uncommon to hear, when gathered together in and amongst our circles of influence, such things as, “If only the priest would go visit so and so”, or “If Deacon would just stop by”, or “If only the church offered this program or that event then they would come to know Jesus.”

If we, as the Mystical Body of Christ, have learned nothing but one thing from the revelations of abuse and the subsequent cover-ups, let it be this; we can no longer afford to vacate, ignore, or diminish our responsibility to be holy men and women of God who proclaim by our words and our deeds that Jesus Christ is the cure to a hurting, lost, and needy world. May we no longer find excuse or reason to abandon our calling to bring others to Jesus. From the onset the mission of the Church is to be a witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Savior of Humankind. That mission has not been revoked nor has it been removed.

The final point today is found in Jesus himself. Notice that Mark is very specific and very deliberate in his description of the healing Jesus performed on the deaf man. Jesus first brought the man apart from the crowd. He then placed his fingers in his ears, spit, and touched the deaf man’s tongue. His groan was audible, and he spoke words of healing. I ask you, did Jesus perform these actions because they were necessary for him to heal? No. Jesus performed these actions because it was what was necessary for the man to believe.

Let us never forget that Jesus Christ wants to have a real and tangible relationship with each and every one of us. He wants us to know him personally, vividly, and intimately. Our faith is not a faith rooted in ritual, rite, or recitation. It is a faith rooted in the very person of Jesus Christ. Jesus knows us intimately and he desires us to know him intimately.

As we come before this altar today, I ask you to examine yourself in the light of today’s Gospel and recall the faces and the names of the individuals who the Holy Spirit has brought to your attention. Individuals who need you to be a witness of the healing power of Jesus. Individuals who need you, not priests, deacons, nor programs, but need you to show them Jesus.

In addition, I ask you to examine your own relationship with Jesus. Is he as real and as tangible as he was when you first met him? Or, has time, pressure, discouragement, and sin caused you to confuse him with your own expectations and conditions.

Finally, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I say this to you as a fellow pilgrim needing your encouragement as desperately as I desire to encourage you. We shall, together, one with another, reach the prize which awaits us all as we endeavor to be live out our mission and our calling.

Today, as men and women of God, we must strive to live out our faith in ways that encourage and unite…

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

In today’s 1st reading in Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts the people of God to not only hear the statues and decrees of God but to also live by them. He issues a challenge to live as God commands and affirms that the God of their fathers is far superior to all the others. He states, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

Moses is pointing out two unique aspects of the Law of God. The first, that God desires to be near to us. He is not uncaring, distant, or disinterested observer of human activity; rather, God is loving and near, near enough to hear the voice of his people. Secondly, God’s law is just. It’s precepts and guidelines not only prescribe how one should interact with him, but also how one should interact with others.

In today’s 2nd reading, St. James continues Moses’s exhortation to the people of God as directs, “be doers of the word and not hearers only.” He then provides a very specific caveat, stating “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” His instructions to the early church reiterate the message of Moses that the true measure of faith in God is manifested in actions, and most especially actions directed towards those who lack status and a voice.

Finally, in today’s Gospel, Jesus chastises the Pharisees by pointing out their hypocrisy. Using the words of the prophet Isaiah he confronts their make-believe faith, stating, “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. He then calls his followers to him and clearly professes the following truth, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” Jesus emphatically makes clear that faith in God is not a procedure or methodology. One cannot achieve righteousness by their own accord; rather, righteousness is given through transformation, a transformation of the very inner-self.

The 1st century Palestinian Jew, at least those who were obsessed with righteousness before God, were consumed with ritual and appearances. They had confused the decrees and statues handed down to them through Moses with oral traditions and practices. Their assumptions about what it meant to be righteous before God were impregnated with self-conceived illusions of piety. They wore their faith like they wore their clothing; as a means to cover and communicate status.

When Jesus stated that “nothing that enters one from the outside can defile”, he was revealing to his disciples the essential truth of the Gospel: that no one is without need of salvation. That no person is righteous by their own actions. Righteousness before God is not achieved through ritual and custom, rather righteousness is only achieved through the gift of God’s grace given to those who believe and are baptized in faith.

In the darkness of this present age and in the division it has created, a division present even within our own church, the message of Jesus Christ, our need for salvation, comes to us today as both a beacon of hope and as a call to repentance. As Moses exhorted the Hebrew people, and as James reminded the early church, and as Jesus instructed his disciples, faith, true faith in God, transforms the person from the inside out.

Today, as men and women of God, we must strive to live out our faith in ways that encourage and unite the mystical Body of Christ. We can no longer afford to let division and difference separate us from the reality that we, and those around us, are in desperate need of the transforming power of God’s grace poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit. It is time that we remove from our language the words of division such as “liberal” and “conservative” recognizing that now more than ever we are called to be first disciples of Jesus Christ, and second, servants of one another. Whether we prioritize the exercise of our faith in the service of the poor or on bended knee in front of the blessed sacrament, we are all called to be transformed by the grace given to us through Eucharist and the Sacraments of the Church.

This day I ask you all, myself included, to pause and reflect, allow the perpetual light of the Word of God to reveal our empty practices and customs of performance-based piety. As you come to the altar of God this day do so in the full awareness of your need for salvation. And, as you leave the altar of God this day, do so in the full awareness of those around you who need you to be a witness of that salvation.

Found in all three of today’s readings are what I like to call “Christian Chestnuts.”

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. John 6:60-69

Found in all three of today’s readings are what I like to call “Christian Chestnuts.” Phrases or sayings from Scripture that we, as followers of Christ, share with one another typically in times of difficulty or struggle and are intended to encourage and uplift. These phrases oftentimes can be found on decorative wall art in our homes or on cards we share with one another on special occasions. They are part of our vocabulary and though the truth’s they contain are powerful and relevant, oftentimes their familiarity can diminish their meaning.

In today’s first reading we hear Joshua’s final address to the people of Israel as he challenges them and reminds them that serving God is a choice, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” In St. Paul the Apostle’s Letter to Ephesians he admonishes, “husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church.” And in today’s Gospel, in response to Jesus’s inquiry regarding his disciple’s commitment, we hear Peter say, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

In these words, the challenge of Joshua, the admonition of St. Paul, and the profession of Peter, we find the elemental truth of our faith, that faith is first and foremost a choice. A choice to believe in a Truth that is quite contrary to the world and culture in which we live. A choice to love and serve with a sacrificial love that goes beyond reason. A choice to hope in something which we cannot yet see nor entirely grasp. Our faith is a choice. A continual choice that does not come without struggle, doubt, and sacrifice.

In light of recent events (I am referring to the Pennsylvania Attorneys General report on abuse in the Roman Catholic Church) I find today’s theme of choice, especially as it is presented in the words of today’s Gospel, particularly relevant. Once again we, as members of the Body of Christ, are confronted with the fallibility, sinfulness, and intentional harm caused by men who were and are supposed to represent the very best of us.

I have read and heard about the challenges that many are now facing as they struggle with the choice to continue to support a Church that has yet to fully disclose and rectify her secret sins. I myself struggle with the disappointment, anger, and frustration associated with this recent exposure of sin and its systematic denial. Yet, I encourage you all to find hope, just as I have, in Peter’s response to Jesus Christ, “Master to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Today’s Gospel is the last in the series of the Bread of Life Discourse found in the Gospel of John. For the past five Sundays our Gospel has centered on the revelation that Jesus is the Bread of Life and today we read about the disciples’ reaction to this revelation. For some, his proposal that those who follow him must eat his flesh and drink his blood, was too difficult to understand and too difficult to follow. Consequently, as the Gospel writer so succinctly points out, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” However, Peter, speaking for those who remained, answers Jesus’s call by simply stating, “to whom shall we go?… we have come to believe.”

Our challenge today is to emulate the belief and the words of Peter. Recognizing that the struggles and difficulties that we face, as the Body of Christ, are a result of sin, of which none of us are innocent. We must endeavor to live out our faith boldly, confidently, and humbly recognizing that none of us, no not one, merits eternal life. Rather, as so pointedly became evident in the last few weeks, all of us are dependent upon the forgiveness of God, through his Son, Jesus Christ, given to us, his Body and Blood, so that we may live in fellowship with him and with one another.

I would like to share with you the words I shared with a companion earlier this week as we shared a cup of coffee. I was asked, “How? How can you still remain Catholic?” I responded, “Because all of the Gospel, it’s message in its fullness, is contained in the doctrine and the teachings of the Church and I cannot leave that.”

Now, if you would be so kind to let me expound on those words, I would like to add, It would be wrong to allow sin, no matter the sin and no matter the person, to drive us away from Eucharist, which is in fact, the very remedy for our sin. Do not let us suppose for one moment that anyone here in this place is without sin. However, let us not forget that through the forgiveness offered to us, through Jesus’s life, passion, death, and resurrection we too will find hope in the fulfillment of the promises of Christ offered to us through his Body and Blood.

I would ask each and every one of you, myself included, that we do not allow this latest revelation of scandal and sin deter us from our endeavor to live as holy men and women of God. We, now more than ever, have a responsibility to live our faith vibrantly and visibly in a corrupt world. Yet, some of you may be asking, “What can we do, the people of God, to facilitate change in our church and in our world?” I propose that we accept the challenge of Joshua and confidently proclaim in our homes, our church, and in our public spaces, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

What does it meant to be sheep without a shepherd?

16th Sunday Ordinary Time
Gospel of Mark 6:30-34

What does it meant to be “sheep without a shepherd?” Does it mean to be lost? Does it mean to be at risk, or in danger? At the mercy of the environment, in want, or in need? Does it mean to be without purpose or direction?

I presume that we all have had moments in our life when we have felt void of purpose or lacked direction. Times or periods when we go through the motions, act out of habit or routine. We, and again I presume, have all had time in our lives when we felt threatened; the wolves of life were circling, snapping their jaws and filling our ears with their growly threats. Moments in our life when fear gripped us, controlled us, and caused us to do and say things that we later regretted and wished we could have taken back.

Maybe you will disagree with me, however, I would suggest that might just be what it feels like to be a sheep without a shepherd; to be lost, fearful, discouraged, and in persistent doubt. To be a sheep without a shepherd is to live a life at risk, constantly on alert, always on the lookout for the next threat.

Jesus, after his disciples returned from their missionary journeys, instructed them to get into a boat so that they may get some rest. They headed to a desolate place, something that Jesus did himself, in order that they may refresh, restore, and prepare themselves. Yet, that isn’t what happened.

Imagine if you will the scene. Jesus and his disciples traveling in a boat and thousands of people walking along the hillside and shoreline tracking their progress. People who, maybe only hours before, were at their homes, doing their chores, engaged in their work, going about their day just as they did the previous days before, and were now traveling to a desolate place so that they may have an opportunity to see and hear Jesus. What caused them to leave their daily routine and go out into the wilderness? They did so, because they were people in need.

Some in need of physical healing, yes. There were those suffering from illness, disease, and deformities hoping for relief and a cure. But not all were suffering from illness or disease. What about those who were physically fit, lacking a deformity, or physical limitation? Why were they leaving their routine and seeking Jesus?

They came because they needed what we all need from Jesus: complete healing. Men and women who needed their sins to be forgiven and to be restored. Men and women who had been living their lives, going about the motions, yet, lacking in security, care, direction, and purpose. They were sheep without a shepherd.

This event in the Gospel of Mark signals a change in Jesus’s ministry. He never again enters into a synagogue to teach. His ministry goes public, so to speak. People surrounded him in the marketplaces and searched him out. His popularity grew, as did the crowds, but so did the resentment and scorn of the Pharisees and other religious rulers of his time.

Something happened to Jesus that day on a boat, as he saw the large crowd of people awaiting his arrival. As he looked upon these people, these sheep without a shepherd, his heart was moved with pity. He saw a group of people with their needs, their wounds, their despair, and lack of direction and he loved them.

In the verse, the Greek word translated as “heart” is not meant in the sense of an actual biological beating heart. His biological heart wasn’t moved. Rather, this word could more accurately lead to mean in English as “gut”; or the seat of our emotions. When we use the phrase, “I feel it in my gut” we typically are describing a feeling that is found in our very most inner self. That place down deep inside each and every one of us in which resides the very core of our humanity; the very essence of who we are. When Jesus’s heart was moved with pity, it was his very most inner self, the very core of all that he was, and is even to this day, which caused him to respond and to desire to shepherd his sheep.

Jesus’s love for you today is in no way diminished or lessened. Just as he looked upon those tired, misguided, and desperately lost people, and was so moved to responded to their needs, so too does he look and respond to you, here this day, in front of this altar.

We too, at times, act like sheep without a shepherd. We too have gotten lost in our sin and misguided intentions. We too have been surrounded by wolves, subsequently threatened to scatter, and have felt abandoned and forgotten. Yet, do not let us forget that Jesus loves us and his love for us is at the very center of who he is, for it is that love which calls us…calls us to him, who is our shepherd.

“What, then, will this child be?”

Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist

“What, then, will this child be?”  Mark records the very question that every parent has asked since the dawn of time.  The question, “How will my kid turn out?” has the ability to cause feelings of wonder and hope or shock and dismay.  If it were possible to add up the total number of hours of sleep lost as a result of pondering this question, we as parents, would be both impressed and frightened.  As we read the recorded words of John the Baptist’s relatives we may take some small comfort in knowing that the mystery, wonder, and worry associated with parenting transcends race, culture, and time.

There is no such thing as “winning” at parenting.  You cannot win at being a parent.  There are no prizes.  There are no trophies.  There are no ribbons.  There are no participation medals.  In spite of what you may think, read, or have been told your children’s successes, or failures, are completely and entirely their sole responsibility.

I recognize that may sound a little harsh.  In fact, when I shared this viewpoint with a group of dads earlier this week most of them, initially balked at its bluntness.  As parents we like to think that we what we do matters…and though it does, it does so in a way that has more to do with our ability to parent rather than our children’s ability to be successful.

Many years ago, as I was eagerly anticipating the birth of my first child, a co-worker pulled me aside and told me in a very crude and direct manner what to expect at the birth. He said, “Of all the things you get when your baby is born there are two things they don’t give you; 1) an owner’s manual, and 2) a receipt.”  In his unique and brusque manner he gave me the best parenting advice ever; a reminder that children don’t come with instructions and they can’t be returned.

Proverbs 22:6 states, “train the young in the way they should go; even when old they will not swerve from it.”  As a parent I hold tightly to that proverb.  It brings me comfort and hope and I pass that proverb on to you in the hope that you too will find comfort and hope in the promise of God.  However, even in this proverb we find the reality that as parents we do our best in the hope that our best is good enough.

Believe it or not my hope today is to encourage you.  I wish to encourage you as parents, both current and future, by reminding you of your sacred duty to raise your children in love and with hope.  As today’s Gospel reminds us, the birth of a child is a wellspring of hope.  As the relatives and neighbors of John the Baptist exclaimed, “What, then, will this child be?” so too we find hope and promise in our children, not only in their birth but also as they grow and develop.

The supreme example of parenting is, of course, God the Father.  As reveled to us in his Word, in his creation, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, we know that God the Father is love and his mercy is the source of our hope.  As parents we should strive in all that we do and say to emulate God’s love for our children.  Through and with love, we communicate hope, and through that hope we provide encouragement as we inspire, motivate, and disciple our children.

Parenting out of love requires us too consciously, and with effort, to remove fear from our words and actions.  Fear seeks validation through success and when success is not achieved the fruits produced are feelings of rejection and unworthiness.  Fear communicates to our children that their worthiness is conditional, based on outcomes and performance, and denies our children the opportunity to experience the joy and stability produced from love without conditions.

Parents are charged with communicating God’s love to their children, for, ultimately, they are his.  We communicate love in everything we do; when we hold and squeeze our babies, when we establish and enforce boundaries for our teenagers, when we allow natural consequences, both positive and negative, to run their course, and when we provide instruction, advice, and encouragement.  In all these things, and many more, we must communicate love.

God, in his infinite wisdom and by his immeasurable love, created us, humankind, with the ability to choose. The ability to choose to accept or reject him.  It is with that example of God’s love, through which we have been called, by which we must parent.  Exposing our children to choice, exposes them to risk.  As parents we manage risk, the best we can, by managing choice.  We communicate love to our children when we allow and provide opportunities for appropriate risk, and when combined with our acceptance that failure and success are equally viable outcomes, we allow hope, an unfathomable wellspring, to encourage, inspire, and heal our children.

Today’s Gospel is a message of hope.  Hope in God and his promise to save all of humankind through the salvation made available to us through his son, Jesus Christ.  I ask you this day, as you come to the altar of God, to ask for his mercy and grace, through which all fear is vanquished, so that we, the family of God, may parent, in all its facets and forms, with the unconditional love of God.  A love that in turn brings hope…hope to all, each and every one of us.

Following my senior year of high school

10th Sunday Ordinary Time
Gospel of Mark 3:20-35

Following my senior year of high school, at the conclusion of that summer, I set out upon the first real adventure of my young life. I stuffed my car full with clothes and stereo components (because in the 80’s stereos didn’t fit in pockets) and left the tiny town of Buffalo, Wyoming. I left that day with the goal of accomplishing 2 things; 1) to eventually arrive in the city of Bartlesville, Oklahoma where I was enrolled for college, and 2) get away from Buffalo, Wyoming as quickly as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate my home town, nor was I trying to escape or leave my family, but at that moment in my life I felt like I had to get out of there. It was almost a need. As if I needed to be somewhere else, anywhere else, other than there.

And so, on that hot summer August day in 1988, while Yellowstone burned, I left Buffalo, Wyoming in my stuffed to the roof, 1981, Midnight Blue, Ford Mustang and set upon an adventure.

As I look back on that time in my life I have come to the conclusion that what I lacked in wisdom, prudence, patience, and common sense I made up for in sheer stupidity. However, and I sincerely mean this, there is not one moment, not one minute, that I would exchange or trade. Now, that doesn’t mean I sometimes think about what could have happened if I had done some things differently, but I wouldn’t exchange a one of them.

Today’s Gospel reading in Mark caused me to recall a moment that occurred early on in my young adult life. To be honest it is a rather benign moment, neither good nor bad, and frankly I am surprised I recall it all, yet, I find a truth in that moment that I believe has some relevance to today’s Gospel.

After having been gone from my childhood home for a while I returned for a visit. As is the norm my mother prepared the meal, set the table, and called us to dinner. I entered the dining room only to discover that my brother was sitting in my usual spot. I will admit that for a moment, and not too brief of a moment mind you, I experienced a feeling of annoyance, combined with a touch of irritation, and I seriously considered saying something about my brother’s apparent lack of respect for the unwritten rules of the house. I chose to keep my mouth shut and, instead, took the next available seat.

The unwritten rules of a family. All families have them. In today’s Gospel, Mark, in his succinct and direct manner, provides us with an insight to one of the unwritten rules of Jesus’s family.

Marks tells us this, “Jesus came home with his disciples. Again the crowd gathered making it impossible for them to even eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” First of all, tell me that isn’t funny. Second, and to my point, even Jesus’s family had unwritten rules.

Imagine with me, if you will, just for a moment, what that day must have been like for Jesus’s family. Their 30-some year old family member returns home after having been away. He brings a “gang” he calls disciples. He has no job. He has no home, and apparently, no aspiration to obtain either. He keeps saying absolutely crazy stuff like; “Love your neighbor as yourself”, “pray for your enemies”, and “be like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.” And, I believe this is the one that really put them over the top, “Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he does the will of my Father.”

Jesus’s family were so frustrated that, according to Mark, they set out to seize him. They fully intended to lay hands on him, restrict him, and prevent him from continuing on in this absolutely crazy adventure. They were so desperate to stop Jesus they even invented theories about him being possessed by the devil. They wanted Jesus to stop. They had had enough.

Yet, we know that Jesus didn’t stop. He continued to preach, teach, and draw people to him. He continued to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and call people to repentance. Jesus was so revolutionary that even his own family did not understand him, and yet it was because of him, and his revolutionary love, that the world found its salvation.

There are times, I propose, that we forget, or diminish, the humanity of Jesus. How he grew up in a family, in a home, in a community and how hurt he must have been by their confusion and lack of understanding. We forget that he too experienced the hurt caused by family and friends who doubted his claims and ignored his love. Do not doubt for a minute that Jesus Christ, the Savior of you, me, and the entire world, did not know the hurt of living this life.

It has been a tough week for us, our church family, and I believe that the difficulties and struggles have not yet subsided. However, my brother’s and sister’s in Christ, do not lose hope for the wondrous grace and mercy of God is present in his Church, in his Body and Blood, and in each other. We boldly and confidently accept the opportunity presented to us to serve one another in the revolutionary love of Jesus, and, through the unfathomable well of his mercy, which is being poured out for us, we take confidence in the power of the Holy Spirt, knowing what Christ accomplishes in us and through us will change our lives and the lives of the people around us.

I challenge you this week and in the weeks to come to answer the call…the call to love revolutionary. Take initiative and visit the sick, the homebound, and the imprisoned. Schedule time for prayer, especially prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and allow God to call you to and prepare you for his service. Reach out to your neighbor in love and in charity. Live in peace with one another. Make right a wrong, correct an error, and repair what is broken. Live your life revolutionary…through the revolutionary love of Jesus.