Have you ever stopped to think about the things that you know?

Gospel of Luke 5:1-11

Have you ever stopped to think about the things that you know? For example, you may know a person, or a thing, or a job. You can know someone by name, or where they come from, or even know where they stand. You can know something like the back of your hand or like the palm of your hand, whichever one you know better. You can know your job backwards and forwards or forwards and backwards. You can know where you have been, where you are at, and where you are going. You can know the ropes, know the score, and it is sometimes very helpful to know your place.

However, have you ever stopped to consider the things that you don’t know. For example, you may not know someone from Adam. Or, you may not know enough to come out of the rain. Or, you may not even know if you are coming or going. You may not know where to look, or how to begin, and there are times when you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. There are moments when we must admit that we know that heaven only knows and that there are times when we are just better off not knowing at all.

I would dare say that for most of us what we don’t know far exceeds what we do know.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges us on both accounts. He challenges us on what we know and invites us to learn what we don’t.

In Luke’s Gospel, after having finished speaking to the crowd, Jesus turned to Peter and said, “”Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” To Peter, an experienced fisherman, who had just spent the entire previous night fishing with no success, responds to Jesus’s request with a warning. He states, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing.” Peter, who knew how to fish, may have been trying to tell Jesus, who, in Peter’s estimation, wasn’t an experienced and accomplished fisherman, that the likelihood of success was not very good. He may have been trying to spare Jesus the embarrassment of failure.

Peter knew how to fish. He knew when to fish and where to fish. Peter and his business partners, James and John, may not have known the first thing about carpentry, but they knew a lot about fishing.

We too, like Peter, know things. We know ourselves, our lives, our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Our knowledge determines how we interact with one another and causes us to behave in prescribed and predictable ways. However, there are times, just like Peter, when Jesus asks us to go beyond the limitations of our knowledge, take risks, and follow him.

Sometimes what we know prevents us from following Christ. For example, we know that if we give the disheveled looking person standing at the entrance of Wal-Mart $5, they will just spend it on alcohol, so we don’t practice Christian charity. We know that the person sitting in church who speaks a different language, or comes from a different place, or has different political, religious, or social opinions will be difficult to get along with, so we refuse to join them in Christian solidarity. We resist in showing kindness or friendship to the person who goes to a different church or doesn’t even go to church, and ignore Jesus’s command to be a servant to all. There are countless different ways in which our knowledge gets in the way of our obedience.

Though Peter knew better than to go fishing at a time and in a place that had he knew to be barren and fruitless, he responds to Jesus in faith and states, “At your command I will lower the nets.”

As they hauled in the nets, overflowing with fish, Peter was forced to confront his personal biases, self-created beliefs, and acknowledge his sinfulness. Up until that moment Peter had seen Jesus as a miracle worker, a faith healer, an itinerant preacher. He knew Jesus as an individual who spoke with authority and performed mighty deeds but had not known him as his Lord. When Peter’s self-constructed ideals were vanquished, he was able to see Jesus as for who he truly was. What Jesus provided Peter that day was not just a plentiful harvest of material blessings, but he gave Peter something, and more importantly someone, to believe in and to follow. Peter and his fishing partners James and John left everything and followed Jesus.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, Peter is our example. We too are called to “put out into the deep.” We too are called to “lower our nets” and place our faith in our Lord and Savior when everything we know tells us otherwise. Jesus called Peter, James, and John to be “fishers of men.” Men who follow him for the sake of others. That call was not unique nor exclusive in its purpose. We too have been called to be fishers of men and we too have the same purpose.

Our challenge today is to place our knowledge, and our talents, and our skills into the loving hands of Jesus. Peter was not asked to abandon his knowledge and skill, he still had to row the boat, drop the nets, and haul them back in. Rather he was called to put his knowledge and skill to use for the kingdom of God. We too have been called for that same purpose.

My friends, it is not what you know, nor is it what you don’t know; rather it is who you know and YOU, who know Jesus, are called to be “fishers of men.”

If there were a star pupil… it would have been Bartimaeus

For the past several weeks, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus and his disciples have been on a journey to Jerusalem. Along the way, Jesus has taken opportunity of their time spent together, and of the people they encountered, to provide very specific instructions regarding discipleship. He started with, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” He followed that with, “whoever is not against us is for us” and thereby clearly communicating that discipleship is not an exclusive club, instead calling all to discipleship. In addition, he gave very specific instruction about the importance of accepting all peoples, especially the marginalized and poor, and stated, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” In this same theme, He explicitly reminds His disciples that, “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” And, finally, in last week’s Gospel, He lays out His plan for leadership, stating, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”

When you consider that Jesus is providing these instructions while on the journey towards His suffering and death, we, his modern-day disciples, cannot ignore the significance and the importance of the message that Jesus was attempting to communicate to his followers. Knowing that persecution, suffering, and crucifixion were awaiting his arrival in Jerusalem, is it any wonder that Jesus took such a direct approach in his instruction and teachings?

It is for this reason, born of both urgency and need, that St. Mark introduces the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, sitting by the road leading from the city of Jericho to Jerusalem, crying out the name of his Messiah, Jesus Son of David. Bartimaeus, the embodiment of Jesus’s teachings on discipleship.

If there were a star pupil, the one student in class who always got the gold star, it would have been Bartimaeus. His faith was focused, complete, and entirely dependent upon his belief in Jesus Christ as his only hope. His faith did not waiver when others chastised, marginalized, and attempted to prevent him from coming to Jesus. Bartimaeus did not allow his limitations and weaknesses to dissuade him from seeking Jesus; rather, he saw in Jesus the cure, and believed that Jesus would make him whole. Bartimaeus placed his entirety, all that he had, and all of who he was, in Jesus.

Would we not say that Bartimaeus was the embodiment of discipleship? Would we not say that Bartimaeus had chosen to “deny himself and pick up is cross and follow (Jesus)”? Would we not say that Bartimaeus represented the very marginalized, the outcast of his society, among whom Jesus came to save? Would we not say that Bartimaeus received Jesus with the very faith of a child and when given opportunity he chose to follow and serve, rather than turn away and seek honor and recognition? Of course, we would! And, so doing, we must also then set him as our example.

I will admit, however, that following Bartimaeus’s example is not easy. There are moments along the way when I become discouraged, disorientated, and defeated. During these times my focus waivers and I give my attention to the negativity and division prevalent in our society and world. I find it difficult to avoid the disillusionment that comes from living in a world that is consumed with appearing right, rather than doing right, and I look for a place alongside the path to sit, to take a break, and forget.

Am I the only one here today who experiences such moments?

Am I the only one who feels as if there are moments when our society has come to accept violence, abuse, and manipulation as the norm and has somehow turned the corrupt into the venerable and the innocent into the oddity? When shootings at school, churches, synagogues, and other public spaces have ceased being a tragedy, and instead have become opportunities to push political agendas and bolster campaigns? It is now considered a fool’s errand to place our faith in our institutions, both secular and sacred, trusting that they will honor their self-prescribed rules and missions of service. I cannot be the only the one present here this day, who too feels moments of doubt, and fear, and dread.

Yet, though I do not deny the darkness of our current day, I am reminded that these days are not unique nor without precedent. A brief recall of human history, recent human history even, reminds the casual observer that there have been dark days before. Such as the days leading up to Our Lady visiting the 3 children of Fatima, Portugal. Or, the days during when Sister Faustina Kowalska was inspired by Jesus and from which the movement of the Devotion of the Divine Mercy found its beginnings.

Bartimaeus, the three children of Fatima, and Sister Faustina are all embodiments of discipleship. All of these individuals, in their own unique way and with their own unique limitations, answered Jesus Christ’s call to discipleship. Through their willingness and obedience, they all changed and affected their world, and our world, with goodness and hope.

Our challenge this day is to follow in their footsteps. To keep our faith in focus, to respond with joy and exaltation to his call, and to follow Jesus in his service. This is our challenge, and this is where we find our hope…not only for us, but for the whole world.

A few years past my youngest son, who was in high school at the time, wanted to get a dog

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 7:27-35

A few years past my youngest son, who was in high school at the time, wanted to get a dog. We had put down the dog of his childhood the previous winter and he wanted a new one. I was opposed to this idea, of course, considering that in a few years he would be away at college and I would be stuck with a dog.

My position wasn’t helped by the fact that the day he asked also was the day that we had spent volunteering at a fund-raising event for a local animal shelter. Nor was my position helped by the fact he had also spoken to his mother. So it was no surprise that we soon found ourselves standing in front of a dozen or so cages of the most pitiful dogs on the planet. Each of them with their own unique “take me home” puppy-dog eyes and vigorously wagging tails pulling at heart strings and clouding rational thought. You already know how this story ends, but I will continue.

My preference was the oldest dog we could find. One who looked at me with the same disdain and apathy with which I view it. My son wanted a puppy. We compromised and came home with a 2-year-old Australian Cattle dog named Honey.

Honey and I didn’t exactly hit it off. Australian Cattle Dogs are a very intelligent breed and Honey, true to her nature, is very intelligent. She is not, however, smarter than me but she thinks she is, and that of course is the source of animosity between us. For example, I will tell Honey to stop doing something, like chasing the cat, chewing the carpet, or barking at nothing, which will then cause her to give me a satirical squinty-eyed stare. I really don’t like that stare.

Fast-forward to present day: my son, now enjoying his second year at college, and me– stuck with a too-smart-for-her-own-good, beady-eyed Australian Cattle Dog with a long healthy life ahead of her.

Now don’t get me wrong, Honey is really a pretty good dog. She is obedient, intuitive, and has a natural instinct to please. However, there is one thing that absolutely drives me crazy about his dog: she doesn’t do well with distractions. Whether it be the squirrels running across the high wire or chattering from the trees, the mailman, the UPS driver, the neighbor kids on their bicycles, a friend coming to visit, or, and most especially, other dogs, Honey loses her mind. She forgets what she is supposed to be doing and does the exact opposite. My wife says it best when talking about the dog, “Honey would be a really great dog, except for the fact she can’t deal with distraction.”

In today’s Gospel of Mark Jesus confronts Peter’s ability to deal with distractions.

According to Mark’s Gospel Jesus concludes his mission to the outlying Gentile districts and begins his journey to Jerusalem. It is at this time he gives his disciples their first insight into what to expect when they get there. As the Gospel writer points out, Peter, who had previously professed his faith in Jesus as the Christ, now takes Jesus aside and “rebukes” him.

Peter, I believe, had allowed himself to get caught up in the fame and the popularity of the movement and fully expected that Jesus was now finally going to Jerusalem to establish his prophesied earthly kingdom. From there he would take his seat upon the throne and all the world would be under his rule. Peter’s expectations were a product of his understanding, and his understanding had been confused with his human desires, and it was this confusion that became the source of Peter’s distraction. And subsequently the cause for Jesus’s response to Peter.

Jesus rebuked Peter for allowing himself to get distracted from the mission. The mission was not one of earthly power and prestige, but Jesus’s mission was, and is to this day, to save the world one relationship at a time.

Let us not forget that our church, the church which Christ Jesus himself established some 2000 odd years ago, was not a church founded on dogmas, doctrines, and traditions. Our church was started by a group of people who had a personal encounter with the Savior of the World. This encounter was not just for them. Today we do not celebrate THEIR relationship with Jesus. We celebrate OUR relationship with Jesus. Our church is a church founded on the one, central, and essential fact that Jesus Christ desires a personal, intimate, and dynamic relationship with each and every individual on this planet; throughout all of time and history even time and history not yet experienced.

When Jesus instructs his disciples that they must take up their cross and follow him, he is not asking them to assent to a systematic set of beliefs and creeds. Rather, he is inviting them to relationship. A relationship that is personal, intimate, and founded in love and trust. A relationship, which our creeds and catechism are designed to remind and to inspire us to carry on this earthly pilgrimage living as holy men and women of God.
I ask you this day as you are preparing yourself to receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, to recall your own personal relationship with Jesus. Are you carrying your cross and following him, or have you allowed the distractions of life to divert your path?

The distractions, I remind you, are unavoidable. We cannot prevent them from occurring because they are real. They wound, they cause pain, and, if we allow them, they will pull us away from the path to which we have been called. The path of following Jesus, giving him all of who we are, so that we may reap the rewards which he promises to those who don’t abandon him.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, remember that God has called you. Called you to love him, to serve him, and most importantly he has called you to a relationship with him. A relationship that does not disappoint. A relationship which will preserve you and fill you with hope, joy, and love. Today, recall that relationship and allowed yourself to be filled up so you can continue in that relationship.

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.”