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.

“In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”…

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

“In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”… this is not only the most effective way of getting the attention of a room full of Catholics, but it is also our most basic and simplest profession of faith.  As we cross ourselves and call out in the name of the Most Holy Trinity we are, in essence, acknowledging our belief in the greatest two mysteries of the Church; the redemption obtained for us by Christ through his salvific work on the cross and the three distinct persons of the Most Holy Trinity.  Today, in the modern age, the significance of this simple profession of faith may be somewhat diminished, but its importance and relevance is essential and necessary to the life and well-being of the Church.

The development of the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity was not without controversy and conflict.  Throughout the centuries the church’s efforts to clarify this teaching required many councils and the theological work of many Church Fathers.  The doctrine itself, after years of struggle against heresy and false doctrine, was ultimately formulated in both the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and, finally, in the Council of Florence in 1442.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is considered to be the central mystery of the Christian faith.  Though we, as modern day disciples of Christ, may not truly appreciate the struggle and the effort represented in the simple act of crossing ourselves “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, this profession of faith did not come to us without struggle and sacrifice.  Countless men and women endured and preserved in order that this essential truth remained firmly at the center of our faith and witness.

It is this central belief in the mystery and power of the Most Holy Trinity which we find in today’s Gospel reading.  It is also in today’s Gospel reading that we find the challenge given to us by our Lord and Savior.  The challenge of living our faith in such a manner that others will also become disciples of Christ.

In order to meet this challenge we must first be willing to examine our life and how we live it.  We must ask ourselves difficult questions.  Questions such as, “How am I fulfilling the command of Christ to go and make disciples?”, and, “Am I intentionally, purposefully, prayerfully, and visibly living each day in order to fulfill this challenge?”

As Catholics we sometimes fall into the trap of; that is what the Priests and Deacons are supposed to do.  They are responsible for baptizing and instructing.  As good Catholics we are only required to pray, pay, and obey. We are not responsible for making disciples.

Christ’s call to “go and make disciples” is universal and encompasses all who call themselves followers of Christ.  It is not a right, a privilege, or even a “calling”; it is a commission.  A commission from our Lord and Savior to spread his light and love throughout all the world; regardless of title, position, or ordination.

Jesus Christ called his disciples to him on the mountain and, in spite of their doubt, commissioned them to go and make disciples.  We, the fruit of their labor, are held to that same expectation.  Though our individual responsibilities and authority vary according to our unique and specific gifts and talents we all have opportunity to teach and guide others in the ways of our Lord.

We teach others by how we live.  When we stand up against injustice; when we show kindness; when we take the time to listen; when we respond in love; when we provide comfort and support; when we offer friendship; when we give direction… we are teaching others what we have learned from those holy men and women who gone before us.

Our responsibility to make disciples does not require formal formation and the Sacrament of Ordination.  Our responsibility to make disciples rests in our willingness to let Christ, through the mystery and power of the Holy Spirit, to minister through us.  This willingness comes from a choice.  A choice to fulfill the commission of Christ to go and make disciples.

The other evening my wife and I were walking to our car…

3rd Sunday of Easter
Gospel of St Luke 24:35-48

The other evening my wife and I were walking to our car after having spent a very pleasant couple of hours at the movie theatre. I was commenting on how pleasantly surprised I was by the fact that the movie had turned out NOT to be a “scary” movie; because I really dislike scary movies. In a rare moment of agreement, at least as far as movies are concerned, my wife also commented on how much she enjoyed the movie, even though it was NOT a “scary” movie; because my wife, on the other hand, really loves scary movies. Overall our time together that evening was enjoyable and pleasant and full of peace… and then I got into the car.

As we were backing out of the parking space, I had to suddenly bring the vehicle to an abrupt halt as a group of young adults were standing directly behind our car taking selfies with their phones. They appeared to not at all be interested in getting out of the way, and it wasn’t because they were ignorant of my car or the fact that I was trying to back out. So, there they stood, and there I sat.

I sat there and stared at them through my rear-view mirror, and I could see out of the corner of my eye that my wife was staring at me, waiting. Waiting to see if the old-man curmudgeon, which, on more than one occasion I have been not so subtly accused of desiring to become, would reveal himself and impress upon this obtrusive group of young people to take their picture taking, duck-face making, conglomeration somewhere else other than directly behind my car. I stared at them. My wife stared at me; and nobody said anything.

Eventually, the group of young adults moved on and I was able to put the car into gear and safely exit the parking lot. It wasn’t until we were on 17th street, headed for home, when my wife, with a sly grin and a twinkle in her eye said, “You really wanted to get out of the car back there, didn’t you.” I paused, considered my response carefully and said, “Yeah…now that I am a Deacon I guess I can’t do that anymore.” She agreed, and we both laughed; however, one louder than the other.

Now, believe it or not, the story I just shared with you has relevance to today’s Gospel and I ask for your patience and attention as I attempt to make a point about a group of selfie-taking young adults and an aspiring curmudgeon.

In today’s Gospel, Luke describes Jesus’s appearance to his disciples in the upper room. We read that Jesus suddenly appeared and was welcomed with shock, dismay, and disbelief. He extended to them his peace; he revealed himself to them through his scars; and then he proved to them his corporality by consuming baked fish. He opened their minds to the Scriptures, and when they began to understand and believe, he reminded them of who they were, stating, “You are witnesses of these things.”

Let us take a moment and examine this word “witness”. It carries with it a greater meaning than just an observer of events, it also implies testimony. This Greek word (pronounced martus) translated to the English word “witness” is also the same word from which is derived the English word “martyr”.

This same word is also found in today’s first reading, in the Acts of the Apostles, when Peter proclaims, “God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.” It is here where we find Peter possessing the title and the mission of Jesus’s call to be a witness. It is here where Peter, through the power of the Holy Spirit, proclaims the Gospel, and calls upon those who hear his voice to “repent and be converted.” It is here, as well other place in the Gospel’s, where we find the Apostolic church both in office and in action. In her office, in the witness of the Apostles as it has been handed down through their successors; and in her mission of being “sent out” to proclaim the Good News.

We are a church that not only has preserved the office of the Apostles, but we are also a church that continues to carry out their mission. The mission of going out “to all the nations” sharing the message of salvation through the forgiveness of sins.

Now, this essential truth is absolutely important to understand in regard to the mission the church, the witness of going “to all the nations” is not just for the ordained or the religious. Rather, the mission of being a witness is for all of the church. We here today, whether we be clergy, or laity, are called to be witnesses of Christ in all that we do, in all that we say, and in all that we are. For the entire Mystical Body of Christ, comprised of all her members, empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and with the charity drawn from the Eucharist, is called to the labor of building God’s Kingdom here on earth.

So, going back to the events of this past week, you must know, as I was driving down 17th street fuming over a group of young adults whose agenda differed from mine, that my answer to my wife’s question about my desire to get out of the car and confront that inconsiderate mob, was in fact, in error. The truth of the matter is this. I should no longer act in a certain manner just because I am now a Deacon; rather, I must act in a certain manner because, like all of us, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am a witness of Christ in all that I do, and in all that I say, and in who I am.