Monday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The immediacy of discipleship is of paramount importance.  The call of our baptism is more urgent than anything else in our lives.  Or, at least, that’s how it should be.  Just like anything else in life that requires something from us, discipleship can take a back seat to other things that come along.  Whether it’s the kids’ soccer game at one point in our lives, or lack of energy at another point, or so many life issues that come along, we can be derailed rather quickly from following God’s call the way we should be.

That’s how it was for the scribe in Jesus’ day.  There was no way he could ever tear himself away from the things that tethered him to this world.  Even assuming that his offer was genuine, it’s unlikely that he ever could have made good on his promise to follow Jesus wherever he went.  Jesus wasn’t letting any grass grow under his feet; he had to go where people needed healing, where people needed to hear the Gospel.

We can too easily be tied to the things in this world that are dead.  But our call is to live the life of the Gospel.  May we all hear God’s word today and follow him with urgency.

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word, brothers and sisters in Christ, is a kind of handbook, I think, for the Christian disciple. Those of us who would follow in the steps of Jesus are given several wonderful pearls of wisdom which are meant to guide us on the way. So today, I thought it would be good to reflect on them, even though they may seem disjointed, and see where they are leading us. So let’s roll up our sleeves and work through them.

The first pearl comes from our second reading from the letter to the Hebrews. The first like is perhaps one of the best known verses of Scripture: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Faith is something we all strive to have, but faith is really a gift. We long to be people of faith because it is faith that gives peace in the midst of uncertainty. Faith, as the author points out, is not the same thing as proof. Proof requires evidence, and faith usually provides none of that. Faith, perhaps, is not knowing what will happen, but instead knowing the one in whom we trust. If we know our God is trustworthy, then we don’t need to know all the details of what is ahead of us; instead, we can trust in the One who leads us. The more that we exercise that faith, the more our faith grows.

The next three pearls of wisdom come from our Gospel today. We could really divide that Gospel into three parts, with the wisdom saying at or near the end of each part. The first of these is “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” This part looks a lot like the continuation of last week’s Gospel. Last week we were cautioned not to store up worthless treasure in barns, but instead to invest in whatever will lead us to heaven. Today’s saying is kind of an examination of conscience along that same line of teaching. Here Jesus is inviting us to look at exactly what has been our treasure. Has it been success, power, prestige and wealth? Or has it been compassion, nurturing, mercy and justice? Have we put all of our energies into our work or play time, or have we spent time on our families, in our prayer life, and in works of mercy? What is our treasure? If our treasure is in things of the world, then our heart will be in the world and we will have no chance for salvation. But if our treasure is in our true home in heaven, then that’s where we will find our heart and our salvation.

The next pearl comes at the end of a teaching on the need for watchfulness and waiting. It’s almost an Advent theme right here in mid-August. Here, Jesus says to us: “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” We do all sorts of waiting. We wait in the grocery line and in the doctor’s office. We wait for friends or family to join us at the dinner table. We wait for job offers, for the right person in our relationships, and we wait for the right direction in our lives. In all of our waiting, Jesus tells us today, we must be prepared for the outpouring of God’s grace. If we are distracted by worldly things and worldly activities, we may miss that grace as it is poured out right before us. If we are caught up in things that have no permanence, we may miss our opportunity to follow Christ to our salvation. We must always be prepared for the Son of Man to come into our lives.

And the final pearl is one of my favorites, perhaps the most challenging words I have ever had spoken to me. It comes right at the end of the Gospel today: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” When I was in seminary, they used to put it in the words of another translation of this verse: “From those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.” Think about it. We are citizens of the richest nation on earth. We live in perhaps the wealthiest city in the wealthiest counties in that nation. We worship freely, without threat of death or incarceration. Our children have opportunities for education beyond the wildest imaginings of those in other nations, or even in most cities of our country. We sit here in an air conditioned Church and worship with great music, vibrant ministries, and committed ministers of all kinds. We have truly been given much – much more than most people can dream of, much more than we deserve at any given point in our lives. Grace is all around us. So what are we giving in return? Much has been given, and much will be expected. If we are not living our faith every day, if we are not giving back to our world from what we have been given, then we are guilty of stealing it. Much is expected of us disciples, and perhaps today’s Scriptures are calling us to reflect on how we have been delivering on that expectation.

All of these pearls of wisdom are – to use a corporate expression that I absolutely loathe – “raising the bar” in our faith life. The letter to the Hebrews calls us to live our faith and not just say we have faith. Jesus in the Gospel tells us to take that faith and do something with it. He calls us to find treasure in the things of heaven, to wait for our salvation with eager longing, and to give from the rich treasure of that which we have been given. This coming year, our parish vision has us reflecting on stewardship, reflecting on what we have been given and what we are doing with it. Today’s Liturgy of the Word is a great way to start our reflections along those lines. We rejoice today to be God’s people, to gather around the table of Word and Sacrifice. As the Psalmist says so eloquently today: “Blessed,” indeed happy, “the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.”

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today's readings

During World War II, the officers of the Third Reich's secret service forcefully recruited many 12- and 13-year-old boys into the Junior Gestapo. The harshly treated boys were given only inhumane jobs that they were to perform without rest or complaint.

After the war ended, most had lost contact with their families and wandered aimlessly, without food or shelter. As part of an aid program to rebuild postwar Germany, many of these youths were housed in tent cities. There, doctors and nurses worked with them in an attempt to restore their physical, mental and emotional health.

Many of the boys would awaken several times during the night screaming in terror. One doctor had an idea for handling their fears. After serving the boys a hearty meal, he'd tuck them into bed with a piece of bread in their hands that they were told to save until morning. The boys began to sleep soundly after that because, after so many years of hunger and uncertainty as to their next meal, they finally had the assurance of food for the next day.

On the last day of my dad's life about a month ago, I gave him Holy Communion for what would be the last time. He was able to pray with us, and was so grateful to receive the Sacrament of Jesus' own body and blood. We call that last Communion Viaticum which in Latin means "bread for the journey." Like the former Junior Gestapo boys who slept soundly because they knew they had food for the next day, my dad was able to rest in Christ knowing that he would be able to eat at the heavenly banquet table.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are called to take comfort in the many ways God feeds us. We know that when we pray "give us this day our daily bread," we will receive all that we need and more, because our God loves us and cares for us. But to really trust in God's care can sometimes be a bit of a scary moment.

It was certainly scary for the disciples, who asked Jesus to "dismiss the crowds" so that they could go into the surrounding cities and get something to eat. They were afraid for the crowds because they had come to the desert, where there was nothing to eat or drink. They were afraid for the crowds because it would soon be dark and then it would be dangerous to travel into the surrounding cities to find refuge and sustenance. And, if they were to really admit it, they were afraid of the crowds, because all they had to offer them were five loaves of bread and two fish – hardly a meal for the Twelve, let alone five thousand.

loaves fishBut Jesus isn't having any of that. Fear is no match for God's mercy and care and providence, so instead of dismissing the crowds, he tells the disciples to gather the people in groups of about fifty. Then he takes the disciples meager offering, with every intent of supplying whatever it lacked. He blesses their offerings, transforming them from an impoverished snack to a rich, nourishing meal. He breaks the bread, enabling all those present to partake of it, and finally he gives that meal to the crowd, filling their hungering bodies and souls with all that they need and then some. Caught in a deserted place with darkness encroaching and practically nothing to offer in the way of food, Jesus overcomes every obstacle and feeds the crowd with abundance. It's no wonder they followed him to this out of the way place.

The disciples had to be amazed at this turn of events, and perhaps it was an occasion for them of coming to know Jesus and his ministry in a deeper way. They were fed not just physically by this meal, but they were fed in faith as well. In this miraculous meal, they came to know that their Jesus could be depended on to keep them from danger and to transform the bleakest of moments into the most joyous of all festivals. But even as their faith moved to a deeper level, the challenge of that faith was cranked up a notch as well. "You give them something to eat," Jesus said to them. Having been fed physically and spiritually by their Master, they were now charged with feeding others in the very same way.

Christ has come to supply every need. In Jesus, nothing is lacking and no one suffers want. All the Lord asks of the five thousand is what he also asks of us each Sunday: to gather as a sacred assembly, to unite in offering worship with Jesus who is our High Priest, to receive Holy Communion, and to go forth to share the remaining abundance of our feast with others who have yet to be fed. After the crowd had eaten the meal, that was the time for them to go out into the surrounding villages and farms – not to find something to eat, but to share with everyone they met the abundance that they had been given. So it is for us. After we are fed in the Eucharist, we must then necessarily go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord by sharing our own abundance with every person we meet.

You might do that by participating in a small faith community, sharing the Scriptures and our own living faith with your brothers and sisters. Maybe you would do that by becoming Eucharistic Ministers, and dedicating yourselves to the ministry of distributing the precious gift of the Lord's own Body and Blood each Sunday. But you could also do that by volunteering to serve a meal at Hesed House, or bringing food to Loaves and Fishes. Sharing our abundance of spiritual blessing doesn't have to be very elaborate. You might just bring a meal to a friend going through a hard time or visit a neighbor who is a shut-in. Jesus is the font of every blessing, and it is up to us to share that blessing with everyone in every way we can. We too must hear and answer those challenging words of Jesus: "You give them something to eat."

What we celebrate today is that our God is dependable and that we can rely on him for our needs. Just as he was dependable to feed the vast crowd in that horrible, out-of the-way place, so he too can reach out to us, no matter where we are on the journey, and feed us beyond our wildest imaginings. Just as the Junior Gestapo boys were able to rest easy as they clutched that bread for the next day, so we too can rest easy, depending on our God to give us all that we need to meet the challenges of tomorrow and beyond. The challenge to give others something to eat need not be frightening because we know that the source of the food is not our own limited offerings, but the great abundance of God himself. We need not fear any kind of hunger – our own or that of others – because it's ultimately not about us or what we can offer, but what God can do in and through us.

In our Eucharist today, the quiet time after Communion is our time to gather up the wicker baskets of our abundance, to reflect on what God has given us and done for us and done with us. We who receive the great meal of his own Body and Blood must be resolved to give from those wicker baskets in our day-to-day life, feeding all those people God has given us in our lives. We do all this in remembrance of Christ, proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes again.

Memorial Day

Today's readings: Philippians 4:6-9 & John 14:23-29

memorialdayMemorial Day originally began in our country as an occasion to remember and decorate the graves of the soldiers who died in the Civil War. Later it became a holiday to commemorate all those who had died in war in the service of our country. This continues to be the main focus of Memorial Day but this day has also become a time to remember not just those who died in war, but also all of our loved ones who have died. It is above all a time to remember.

As a people, we tend to look for heroes in our lives. Our society gives us all kinds of heroes, most of them really pretty unworthy of the title. How many sports heroes have also been drug users? How many political heroes have also turned out to be corrupt? How many entertainment heroes have found their way into drug or alcohol abuse or have turned out to be flawed in other ways? We are all of us both saints and sinners. We are works in progress hoping for true redemption in Christ. We should therefore look up to those heroes in our lives who have been people of faith, even if they have been flawed in other ways.

And so we remember today those who have been believers, those who loved God and, as Jesus commanded in today's Gospel, have kept his word. These are the heroes we would do well to pattern our lives after, as St. Paul says in today's first reading: "Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you."

Those who have been part of our lives, and the life of our country, who have been people of faith and integrity are the heroes that God has given us. If we would honor them on this Memorial Day, we should believe as they have believed, we should live as they have lived, and we should rejoice that their memory points us to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is our hope of eternal life.

Fourth Sunday of Easter: World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Today’s readings

Today’s brief Gospel reading begins with the wonderful line, “My sheep hear my voice.” However, I have two problems with that. First, who wants to be compared to sheep? Sheep are not the brightest of animals, and they must remain in their flock to defend themselves against even the most innocuous of predators. Second, how are the sheep, if that is how we are to be called, to hear the shepherd in this day and age? There are so many things that vie for our attention, that it would be easy to miss the call of the shepherd altogether.

So let’s look at these issues. First, many who raise and nurture sheep would perhaps disagree with my assessment that they aren’t very bright. I have been told that sheep do have the innate ability to hear their master’s voice, which helps them to survive. Add that to the fact that they also innately remain part of the flock, and we can see that sheep seem to know what it takes to survive. And maybe we don’t know that as well as we should. How often do we place a priority on being within earshot of our Master? How willing are we to remain part of the community in good times and in bad? Yet Jesus makes it clear today that this is the only way we can survive, the only way we can come at last to eternal life.

So what will it take to overcome my second objection? What will it take for us sheep to hear our Master’s voice? We who are so nervous about any kind of silence that we cannot enter a room without the television on as at least background noise. Or we who cannot go anywhere without our cell phones and/or iPods implanted firmly in our ears? Or we who cannot bear to enter into prayer without speaking all kinds of words and telling God how we want to live our lives? If even our prayer and worship are cluttered with all kinds of noise, how are we to hear the voice of our Shepherd who longs to gather us in and lead us to the Promise? Yet Jesus makes it clear today that entering into the silence and listening for his voice is the only way we can survive, the only way we can come at last to eternal life.

The real question, though, is this: how are we to hear the Shepherd’s voice if there are no shepherds to make it known? Today is the world day of prayer for vocations. And I want to talk about all vocations today, but in a special way, I want to talk about vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Because it is these vocations, and especially the priesthood, that are called upon to be the voice of Christ in today’s world. This is a special, and difficult challenge, and I know there are young people in this community that are being called to it. We hear in today’s Liturgy of the Word that this task is not always easy because it is not universally accepted, as Paul and Barnabas found out. But it is a task that brings multitudes of every nation, race, people and tongue to the great heavenly worship that is what they have been created for. People today need to hear the voice of the Shepherd, but who will be that voice when I retire? Who will be that voice when there aren’t enough priests in our diocese for every church to have one?

We know that every person has a vocation. Every person is called on by God to do something specific with their life that will bring not only them, but also others around them, to salvation. Parents help to bring their children to salvation by raising them in the faith. Teachers help bring students to salvation by educating them and helping them to develop their God-given talents. Business people bring others to salvation by living lives of integrity and witness to their faith by conducting business fairly and with justice and concern for the needy. The list goes on. Every vocation, every authentic vocation, calls the disciple to do what God created them for, and helps God to bring salvation to the whole world.

Six years ago on this very Sunday, I was struggling with my vocation. I knew that God was calling me to give up my comfortable life and go to seminary to study for the priesthood. But I did not want to go. I was already doing what I wanted to do with my life and thought it was going pretty well. But on some level, I knew that life as a disciple required me to do what God wanted, and not necessarily what I wanted. There was an open house that day at the Diocesan Vocations Office. I wasn’t interested and wasn’t going. And that day, the celebrant preached on vocations and made the point that living as a disciple meant that at some point we have to stop asking the question, “what do I want to do with my life?” and start asking, “what does God want me to do with my life?” And I knew that God wanted me to go to that open house that day, so I did. Four months later, I was in seminary.

What about you? Are you doing what God wants you to do with your life? Maybe your answer won’t require such a radical change as mine did. Maybe it means you renew your commitment to your family, your work, your life as a disciple. But if you’re a young person out there and have only been thinking about what’s going to make you successful and bring in lots of money so you can retire at age 35, maybe God is today asking you to stop thinking only of yourself and put your life’s work at the service of the Gospel. Maybe you’ll be called on to be a teacher, or a police officer, or a health care professional. And maybe, just maybe, God is calling you to enter the priesthood or religious life. On this day of prayer for vocations, I’m just asking you to pray that God would make his plans for your life clear to you, and that you would promise God to do what he asks of you. I can tell you first hand that nothing, absolutely nothing, will make you happier.

And so, let us pray:

Faithful God,
You sent your son, Jesus,
to be our Good Shepherd.
Through our baptism
you blessed us and called us
to follow Jesus who leads us
on the path of life.
Renew in us the desire to remain faithful
to our commitment to serve you and the Church.
Bless all who dedicate their lives to you
through marriage, the single life, the diaconate,
priesthood, and consecrated life.
Give insight to those
who are discerning their vocation.
Send us to proclaim the Good News
of Jesus, our Good Shepherd,
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Have you ever felt like you were in deep water? Have you taken on a project that seemed simple enough until you got into it and then you wondered what got you into this mess in the first place? Those of you who are parents, when you have had a particularly rough day, have you wondered why you became parents at all? At work, have you gotten involved in something that became bigger and bigger every time you looked at it and you wondered how it ever got that way? Those of you who are or have been students, have you wondered whatever possessed you to strive for higher education when cramming for an exam or rushing to finish a paper? I imagine all of us could think of a time when we felt like we were in over our heads, and so Jesus’ command to Peter – to put out into deep water – may have for us a rather ominous ring.

But we disciples are constantly invited to put out into ever-deepening water. I’ve said before that God never says to us “hey, here’s something easy you could do for me.” The truth is, whatever we are called to do is always going to be beyond us in some ways. If that weren’t the case, well, then we’d have to wonder if the call were really authentic. If everything comes real easy and there are never any challenges to what you’re doing, then you don’t have to rely on God’s grace, do you? That’s the truth about grace. We’re always going to need it, and if we are faithful, it’s always going to be there. So, although putting out into deep water will certainly be more than we can handle, it’s never going to be more than God can handle. All we have to do is rely on him.

Today’s Scriptures provide us with three different vocation stories. Isaiah, Paul, and the first disciples all relate the stories of their being called to put out into deep water. These stories tell how all of them were changed, little by little, so that they could become the disciples they were created to be. They all receive a call, their unworthiness is noted, grace is received, and they, well, they put out into deep water.

Isaiah’s call, from our first reading today, came in a vision. This vision takes place in the context of the heavenly worship, and is certainly awesome, or maybe even a little frightening, to imagine. Isaiah exclaims “Woe is me!” and proclaims that he is completely unworthy: a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips. His unworthiness has been anticipated and a remedy is ready: an ember from the altar is used to purify his lips. After this, the Lord asks who will go to proclaim God’s word, and Isaiah enthusiastically responds, “Here I am, send me!”

In the second reading, we hear about the call of St. Paul. As we know about St. Paul, his call came through a miraculous – and frightening – event that happened on his way to Damascus. He was struck down with a great light, and made blind. Paul’s call to be a disciple is described in our second reading as one that happened in the line of revelation. Christ is revealed as risen from the dead and appears first to Peter, then the apostles, then to some five hundred witnesses and finally to Paul himself. Paul too is certainly unworthy: he was the persecutor of the Christians and even participated in the stoning of St. Stephen. But that unworthiness has been anticipated, and God’s effective grace makes him what he is: a worthy apostle of Christ. With that grace, Paul has then toiled harder than anyone, and made Christ known all over the world.

In today’s Gospel reading, we have the beautiful story of the call of Peter, James and John, the first of the apostles. Here, the Lord comes to Peter in a boat … a symbol of his everyday life and work. The call itself takes place in a setting of Jesus’ preaching. Just like Isaiah and Paul, these first apostles are unworthy. They are fishermen by trade, and have caught nothing all night long. (Not easy for a bunch of fishermen to admit!) But their unworthiness has been anticipated, and Jesus provides for them a miraculously great catch of fish … a catch that threatens to sink two boats and takes all hands on deck to bring in. Jesus then assures them that this catch is nothing compared to the people they will be gathering in for the kingdom. They respond as enthusiastically as Isaiah and Paul: they leave everything they have known: family, work and home, and follow Jesus.

The call of all these men has much in common. First, their calls take place in a particular context: for Isaiah, a vision of great heavenly worship; for Paul, a setting of revelation; and for Peter, James and John, a setting of preaching. Second, God meets them all right where they are at. In the everydayness of their lives, they come to know the call to put out into deep water. Third, they are all completely unworthy of the call. The first apostles aren’t even good at their current job! But fourth, God anticipates their unworthiness and provides the grace to overcome it. Indeed, it is that unworthiness that makes it necessary for all of them to rely on God, because God’s grace is the only way to overcome that unworthiness. Finally, the call is presented and each of them responds enthusiastically, giving all they can give, perhaps getting in a little over their heads, relying on God’s grace, and doing great things for the kingdom.

We are the successors to these great disciples. We too are called out of the everydayness of our lives, with God meeting us right where we are. We are all of us completely unworthy of the call that we receive. But we are all drenched in God’s grace which more than makes up for everything we lack. The question is: will we respond as enthusiastically as Isaiah, Paul, Peter, James and John? Will we put out into deep water? Or will we hold back fearing that we will get in over our heads?

Our baptism calls us all to be disciples, brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are to grow in faith, hope and love, we must be willing to take that risk and put out into deep water – because no other response is appropriate! We must bring our boats to shore, leave everything, and follow Christ. Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.