Thursday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The Israelites wandering in the desert would seem to have had the spiritual life easy. How could they possibly miss God’s presence? There was a cloud to lead them to the Lord by day, and fire by night. But just like the stuff that ended up in the net in today’s Gospel, some people got it and some people didn’t.

The same is true for us. How hard can it be for us to see the Lord’s presence in our own lives?  Even now, some people get it and some people don’t.  And more than that, even the faithful among us sometimes get it and sometimes don’t.  I often think it would be good to have something as hard to miss as a column of cloud or fire to keep me on the straight and narrow.  Well, in a way – a much better way, actually –  we do: we have the Church, the Sacraments, and the Word of God, prayer that beckons us by day and by night. But even that doesn’t always light the way for us.  There are so many distractions.

The issue is urgent.  The Kingdom of heaven, Jesus tells us today, will be like the fishmongers sorting out the fish from the seaborne refuse.  We don’t want to get thrown out with all that vile stuff.  So, may God lead us all to be among those who get it, those who follow the way marked out for us. After all, we have something way better than clouds by day and fire by night, don’t we?

Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The presence of God, in some ways, is quite often really unwelcome, at least to those who have made their own gods. Saint Paul urges the Corinthians in today’s first reading to be good discerners of this reality; to turn away from the spirit of the world so that they can turn toward the Spirit of God. That’s good advice for us too, of course. In today’s Gospel the demons that possessed the poor man knew who Jesus was and what he came to proclaim. Those demons wanted no part of Jesus, in fact, they wanted him to go away. But of course, Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life will not let the man remain possessed, and the demon flees.

But the demons that oppose God’s presence remain in our world and are quite active. They possess people, institutions, and social systems. They attempt to cloud a respect for life by preaching the so-called truth of “choice.” They attempt to oppress whole peoples and developing nations with greed and rampant consumerism. They attempt to derail justice with corruption, peace with selfishness, respect for authority with a kind of false freedom of expression. The expression of truth in our society is so relativistic and centered around “me.”

But the Jesus will not go away; he will not be overcome by anything; he will be always omnipresent. And we believe that forces of darkness will never have the last word. For the truth will overcome them like the thief in the night, and all that darkness will be put to flight in the light of truth. So may we Christians continue to sing of the Lord’s truth so that all people will continue to be amazed, just like the bystanders at the casting out of the demon. And with the Psalmist, we can rejoice that “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.”

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We’ve just had this Gospel reading in the Sunday readings in the last couple of weeks, so I thought I’d touch on a few verses that I didn’t go into in that homily.  And these are some of the most powerful words in Scripture for me, and always a challenge for me:

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Sometimes we just overlook the blessing of every moment, don’t we?  We might be in the midst of a really good time in our lives.  We get to see new birth, restoration, healing, joy, laughter, and celebration.  But in the midst of all that, we can in fact become jaded to it.  Perhaps we even feel entitled to it and the blessing of it stops registering for us.

Or maybe we’re in the midst of a really lousy time.  Maybe we are seeing death, degradation, sickness, brokenness, pain, weeping and grief.  And we can be real angry about that, overlooking the care that is extended to us, from the kind words, to the thoughtful deeds, or even just the loving embrace.  We miss the blessings of those hard times a lot.

But regardless, in every moment of every day, we get to see things and hear things that others have not been privileged to see and hear.  We get to love and rejoice and persevere in whole new ways every single day.  Whether the times are good or bad, the moments are always blessed by our God who walks with us through every experience.  We have to take the time to see and hear those blessings, because the destruction of our soul that happens when we miss it is just irreparable.  So many have longed to see and hear what we have seen and heard.  Blessed are our eyes, blessed are our ears, blessed are we!

The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time [A]

Todays’ readings

I think that today’s readings are readings that call us to hope.  The hope that we have is the presence of our God, even when things are falling apart – even when the wind and the rain and the earthquakes and fire threaten us, God is there.  I thought of that a lot this week.  A former parishioner’s house burned down after it was struck by lightening in one of the freakish storms we’ve been having.  A parishioner’s brother died saving a young man from drowning.  I visited one of my own relatives in the hospital today, and she was so agitated, so afraid she might die.  Even the most faithful among us has to ask, where is God in all this?

I think Elijah can relate to us when we’re feeling this way.  The back story on our first reading is that Elijah has just come from soundly defeating all of the pagan “prophets” of Baal, which was very embarrassing to King Ahab and especially to Queen Jezebel, who vowed to take Elijah’s life in retaliation.  So he has been hiding out in a cave, not for protection from inclement weather, but for protection from those who sought his life.  In the midst of this, God asks Elijah why he is here.  Elijah explains that the people of Israel have been unfaithful and have turned away from God, not listening to Elijah’s preaching, and they have put all the other legitimate prophets to death.  Elijah alone is left.

So God says that he will be “passing by” which in biblical language means that God will be doing a “God thing.”  God will be revealing his presence.  And so we have the story: there is a mighty wind, an earthquake and even fire.  But Elijah only recognizes the Lord’s presence in the tiny whispering sound.  The text says that the Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire.  I’m not sure I agree with that.  I do think that God is with us even in calamity, but wherever we experience his presence is where he is for us.  For Elijah, he needed the peace of the tiny whisper.  But we might need reassurance in the earthquake or the fire.

Our gospel reading today I think proves that God is where we need him.  Jesus has just fed the multitudes, as you may remember from last week’s gospel.  After that, he takes some time alone to pray, and is so filled with the Spirit that he actually walks on water.  Again, here is Jesus “passing by” the disciples on the boat.  He reassures them that it is him, and Peter, the impetuous one, immediately asks if he can come out and walk on the water too.  Jesus says, “come.”

For a while, he does okay. He’s making progress, walking toward Jesus. But then he stops looking at Jesus and starts looking at the storm: “But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” Do you see that? While he’s looking at Jesus, he is able to walk toward him, but as soon as he takes his eyes off Jesus in favor of looking at the storm, he sinks. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus asks him, pulling Peter out of the water.

So we might be tempted to criticize Peter for his lack of faith.  But we should remember that he, at least, had enough faith to get out of the boat.  The other eleven did not.  He got out of the boat because that’s where Jesus was – out there on the water.  Was Jesus present for him when the wind and the waves threatened to take his life?  Absolutely.  God is present for us when we are in the middle of the storm.

Let’s try a little prayer experiment.  I’m going to ask you to close your eyes, but you have to promise not to fall asleep!  I want you to think about a crisis you’ve been in recently, or even one that’s still going on.  It might be little or big, but bring that to mind.  That crisis is the waves in the story.  Now you get to be Peter.  You’re on the boat, that safe refuge that is leading you to the place that Jesus has in mind for you.  Only on the voyage, your crisis begins a storm that tosses you around so badly that you can’t even see your destination anymore, and you fear for your life.  But you see Jesus on the water.

You call out to him and he calls back for you to come to him.  You think about it for a minute, but you realize you have to give it a shot.  So you get out of the boat, that safe refuge that gives you some comfort even in the storm, and you start to walk toward Jesus across the stormy sea.  And you do okay for a while, but then you wonder if your prayers will ever be answered, or if there is any hope for your situation at all.  You feel the wind pushing at you and notice that the waves of your crisis are a lot uglier than you thought they were.  And you begin to sink into them, despairing that there is no hope for your situation.  And Jesus reaches out his hand to you, pulling you up out of the stormy sea.  The storm is still raging, but with Jesus’ help, you get back into the boat, and the waves calm down, and you continue the journey to the place where Jesus wants you to be, having made just a little bit of progress, confident that he is with you even in the storm.

Whether we are experiencing wind, waves, earthquakes or fire, we can be confident that our Lord is with us.  We might still have to experience all those things, but we can go through them with hope that comes from the presence of our God, who is with us in our darkest times, whispering to us, or calling out to us from the water.