Have We Forgotten Our Roots

Gospel of John 14:15-16, 23b-26

Today, Pentecost Sunday, is best introduced by the words of St. Luke in today’s 1st reading, “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.”

We, gathered here this morning, do not consist of the entirety of the Body of Christ, yet, we here in this place and at this moment of time are her representatives. We, being male and female, young and old, of many different races, nationalities, and origins may very well indeed be a reflection of the “devout Jews gathered from every nation” of which St. Luke described in the Acts of the Apostles. If you were to stand and wander about this sanctuary, it is very possible that you would encounter an individual very much different from yourself. You may encounter a different language, culture, place of birth, and quite possibly, different political opinions, yet the very thing that we all have in common is that we are here because we believe… and that is no small thing.

We believe in Jesus, the Son of God. We believe that he was a man who was crucified, died, and was buried, and was raised from the dead. We believe he ascended into heaven and we believe that God sent us the Holy Spirit, and that one day he will come again for us.

Now, I recognize that after these basic beliefs things can get a little less… unifying. Depending on individual differences of faith formation, personal revelation, and catechization it might be rather difficult to get from this group a consensus on just about anything beyond the very basic tenant of our faith.

Growing up a Protestant I heard stories about churches being torn apart by arguments on which side of the church the piano should be placed. My wife, a cradle Catholic, tells me about a Catholic church that experienced a tremendous riff when the Bishop decided against the purchase of an organ.

I have confessed this here, from this pulpit before, but I often find myself listening to evangelical radio programs that condemn other self-professed Evangelical Christians because they don’t hold the same end time, rapture, and second coming beliefs that they do. However, before I can get too much of a self-righteous Catholic, I hear about Catholics who condemn other Catholics because they do or do not hold hands with one another during the Our Father. Division and discord are not uncommon regardless of the church you attend.

Yet, what do we read about in today’s first reading. We read about a bunch of people, from many different places, of many different languages, with many different faith formations, and many different personal revelations all finding agreement in one thing. That one thing being, “We hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

Isn’t it interesting that St. Luke the historian records for us that the very birth of the Church occurred in the very midst of chaos. That thousands of people, with just as many ideas, perceptions, opinions, and beliefs all found common ground in the “mighty acts of God!” And, what were those acts? Those acts were the very acts of Jesus, of whom the Apostles bore witness. Those acts were the birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Those acts were the miracles he performed, the words which he spoke, and the love which he shared. Those acts were the sins he had forgiven, the sinners he had restored, and promises he had made. Those acts were the very embodiment of God’s love for humankind and for their salvation.

We here in the modern-day church are not unlike those early day Christians. They too possessed ideals and practices rooted in culture, tradition, and opinion that caused them to separate, segregate, and differentiate one from another. I have heard it argued that the most segregated day and time in our country is Sunday morning. The traditional day and time when those who are called to be one in Christ gather in their places of worship with people who mostly look, speak, and think just like them.

Have we forgotten our roots… our beginning… our calling?

My brothers and sisters, I am not calling out as some naïve Pollyanna professing that we ignore those things that divide us. Rather, I am calling out in hopes that we do the exact opposite. That we acknowledge the differences and that we embrace one another in spite of those differences. We do this not through the sacrifice of doctrine, nor do we stop professing the truth and wonder of the Gospel, but we do this by continually calling one another to be in community… a community of faith in Jesus Christ.

What Does it Mean to Love One Another?

5th Sunday of Easter
The Gospel of John 13:31-33, 34-35

What does it mean to love one another? How are we supposed to love one another? And, who is one another? This commandment to love which we all have been called is as simple as it is illusive. To profess love for one another is, at times, an ideal that is much easier to profess than too live.

An ideal is defined “as a person or thing regarded as perfect.” Today’s Gospel clearly establishes an ideal. The Ideal of love.

Jesus gave us, his disciples, this clear and specific commandment. He gave us this commandment on the evening of his passion, in the final discourse before his arrest, trial, persecution, and crucifixion. His words are clear, plain, and direct… “As I have loved you, so shall you love one another.” Words which sacrificial meaning became more so evident after the events of the cross.

This ideal to which all, who follow Christ, strive to emulate is given without variance or exception. Jesus does not provide caveats, allowances, or conditions for love. In fact, he identifies love as the proof of discipleship. A love that is perfect, holy, and divine is the defining characteristic of the woman or man claiming to be a follower of Christ.

Today, our challenge is to examine our response to Jesus’s call to love.

Jesus’s call to love is not an end in and of itself. It is not a prize to be won or an outcome to be achieved. Nor is it a plateau, or a mountain top, or an emotional state to obtain and sustain. Instead, Jesus’s call to love is a practice. It is the day-to-day practice by which we live with and serve one another.

The process of living in love is manifested in charity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God by all things for this own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves…” (1822). Our charity is the embodiment of the ideal, the perfect love to which we all have been called.

Living in love is not static, rather it is dynamic. It grows, evolves, and accommodates. It is not lifeless, unchanging, and rigid. The commandment to love requires disruption of routine and violation of established norms. When seeking love as a goal, as something to possess, the practices of love become the measure, and, ultimately, the goal. For example, the number of rosaries said, the hours spent in front of the blessed sacrament, and the meals distributed to the hungry become a justification of righteousness. Love, which is measured in joy, peace, and mercy, is replaced with personal accomplishments and rationalizations of devotion and spiritual discipline.

A very current example of this is being played out in our world today. In the country of Venezuela thousands of people are suffering in hunger, lack clean water, and live in fear and darkness. Yet, there are those who use these deplorable conditions to promote a political objective rather than acknowledge the human suffering. To respond as if starvation, thirst, illness, and death are the justifiable consequences of a failed political system is to deny the sacred Catholic teaching of Human Dignity. Condemning human life for the sake of being right in not living in love. Living in love seeks right relationship not validation.

We must resist the temptation to respond to the chaos, randomness, and imperfection of this world with isolation and indifference. Rather, we must respond to injustice, persecution, and deprivation as opportunities to live out the commandment of Jesus, “so shall you love one another.” When jobs are lost, or illness threatens life. When relationships are broken, and false promises given. When despair, doubt, and depression diminish hope, we must not turn away from love. We must not respond in fear. We must not abandon the commandment of Jesus. As followers of Christ there is no greater challenge that we will face. The challenge of responding in all circumstance, to all people, in all manner of hardship in love, is by far the most difficult thing we will do as disciples of Christ.

To isolate, to withdraw, to remove oneself from the body of Christ, is not living in love. To condemn sin rather than to correct sin is not living in love. To create barriers to friendship, to deny kindness, or to intentionally hold back goodwill is not living in love. To place conditions on charity, or to feign ignorance, or worse, indifference is not living in love.

Living in love requires community. Living in love requires forgiveness and patience. Living in love requires intimacy, and understanding, and meaning. Living in love requires that we give whatever we can, that we serve whoever we can, and that we go wherever we can in order that we shall be known by our love.

Jesus, in his last instructions to his disciples, called them… called us… to be men and women who love. To respond to each other and to the chaos of this world in love. He promised us that he would not abandon us. He promised us that he would someday call us to him, and he promised us that we would be known for our love.

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.