Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Son of Man Must Suffer

Jesus rebukes Peter for thinking as men do, not as God does. This makes sense since 1) Peter is human and thinks in human categories and 2) Jesus just acknowledged that he is the Messiah who was promised, and yet a moment later said that he would be rejected, suffer, and die. 

And if we’re honest, 2,000 years later we're not a lot better at wrestling with ideas of Jesus and Isaiah that a Servant of Yahweh should suffer. We might believe it for Jesus, but we don’t much accept it for ourselves, for people we know, or for the Church or the world as a whole. 






Saturday, September 15, 2018

Deserts Bloom, Deaf Hear

Why did Jesus do many miracles, but we, even in the Christian world, do not see miracles today? How do we understand them back then? Was it just to prove a point, and if so, what was that? 

<<This is for last weekend's homily (9/9/18), had uploading issues all week.>>




23rd Sunday B

Deserts Bloom, Deaf Hear



Why don’t we see miracles today?

Why not healings?

Seem a key part of Jesus’ mission. 

Even apostles could do some specific ones. 

Why not now? 

Why not us? 



There are two questions we need to ask ourselves with that thought:

First, does healing people on earth seem like one of God’s major goals? 

And second, what did the healings mean? 


To the first—does healing people on earth seem like one of God’s major goals—I think we have to answer rather confidently to that with a firm “No”. 

I’m not saying that’s a fun answer.

I’m not saying that’s the answer we want. 

But the evidence does seem to lean heavily in that direction. 


Miraculous healings are generally rare. 

Miraculous healings by holy people—even people who would go on to be canonized saints—are relatively rare. 

Sure, each canonized saint had to have at least two miracles attributed to their intercession after they had died to show that God is responding to them...

...but that is seen as being more about providing a sign of divine connection, than it is about God trying to heal the ills of the world through miraculous means. 

I think we have to say that on the whole, the number of documentable divine healings is less than the number of times someone was not healed of their affliction...by several degrees of magnitude. 


And that actually makes a certain amount of sense. 

For at least three reasons

1- Population

2- Respects the situation of the world and focus his promises on the life to come

3- Being quite honest with ourselves, we are a rather selfish and self-important species, and most of us grow more in virtue and trust when we face misfortune than we do when we abound in health and wealth and beauty and talents. 

We tend to be better people when we share in the weakness of Christ crucified than when we are strong and confident. 

Weakness, meekness, and poverty seem to be Jesus’ recommended qualities. 

Hint of that at the end of our 2nd reading today: “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?”



So if that, in part, answers the first question: “Does healing people on earth seem like one of God’s major goals?”

What answer do we give to the second: “What did the healings in the gospels mean?”


Jesus’ miracles were never for his benefits, and they seem to be only in part for the benefit of the sick and infirm he helped. 

Didn’t spend 50 years healing; less that 3 years

Didn’t travel far; handful of towns that already believed in the Hebrew God. 

Didn’t hand out the power to more than a few for a limited time. 

Apostles. 




Healing wasn’t the goal of his mission. 

Like the canonization miracles of saints today, it’s more about the miracles’ power as a sign.

Sign that the he has a divine connection.

He doesn’t heal everybody, because he doesn’t need to heal everybody, but he needs to heal enough that people see him as legitimate.

As he says in Luke’s Gospel, “if I cast out demons by the finger of God then the kingdom of God is upon you.”

In the past, we tended to focus on these miracles exclusively as proofs that Jesus was divine— God come in the flesh.

Part of that was us trying to read our concepts of God back into Jesus his story, because we were arguing with atheists or people of other religions who wanted to say Jesus is just a good man and not God. 

So it was important for us to see the miracles as “proofs that he’s God”

But we need to realize that the average Jewish person in 30 AD was not looking for God walking around.

They really wouldn’t even know what that phrase could mean.

There was nothing in their scripture to suggest that was a possible happening to be on the lookout for.


And notice, in that passage from Luke I just quoted, Jesus doesn’t say “if I cast out demons that proves that I’m divine”

No, he said that “if I cast out demons by the finger of God, that is proof that the kingdom of God is upon you.”


This then should help us understand what’s going on here. 

It especially helps us see why this gospel passage is assigned this particular first reading. 

As I said two weeks ago, the first reading on a Sunday or holy day will always be chosen to highlight something for the gospel that day.

p. 60

Isaiah 

“Do not be frightened! Fear not!”

Here is your God…vindication

Vindicate you among the nations.

Not to heal you 

“With divine recompense he comes to save you”

Vindication and salvation. 


eyes, ears, lame, tongue


Not just individual humans, but whole cosmos affected

streams, pools, springs


If you go just a bit further in this chapter, Isaiah 35


A highway will be there,
called the holy way;

No lion shall be there,
nor any beast of prey approach,
nor be found.
But there the redeemed shall walk.

And then it says this:

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning flee away.

Yes, there will be amazing signs: the lame will walk, the deaf will hear

Even the earth will be changed

But what is it saying?

These are the signs that the people will be coming back from exile.

From the Babylonian captivity

Back to Jerusalem

Rejoicing and miraculous signs will accompany them. 



But wait, you say, in Jesus’ time, weren’t they already back from exile?

They came back like 500 years before Jesus’ time 


Here is what we don’t get—and I mentioned this in Advent and Lent this last year—for the Jewish people, just because they returned geographically to Judea, they didn’t feel like the exile was over. 

Because if you take what they had been reading in Isaiah and Ezekiel about the return from exile, there’s a whole lot of promises that hadn’t been fulfilled yet.



Think of what they had Lost in the Babylonian exile:
Land
City
Temple 
Presence of God in the Temple
Kingly line going back to David and Solomon
Independence 

When they returned to Judea in 537, all they got back was their abandoned capitol city and some land around it. 

And they still had no king and were under the rule of first the Persians and then the Greeks, then the Romans.

This is what else Isaiah and Ezekiel had promised the return would look like:
Return of all captives, including the 10 Lost Tribes
Greater land
Victory over pagans
Free of foreign control 
Amazingly fruitful land
Glorious city which people stream to 
Restored temple
Holy priests
God’s physical presence in the temple will return
Presence forever
Light to the nations 
Righteous kings
Unbreakable bloodline 
Purify the land 
Eradicate idolatry 


None of those things happened

None of those happened in the 500 years between the Return and Jesus’ time

This is why the people were so anxious.

Always on the lookout for who would restore their fortunes. 

They were waiting to see if Isaiah’s prophecies would ever be fulfilled, including the extraordinary promises of Isa 35


So what happens?

J comes and does miracles

Gospel today ends by saying:They were astonished. He has done all things well. He makes the deaf and the mute speaks

Is that just because they saw he can heal us? Like a free clinic. 

No. They saw the writing on the wall. They knew their Isaiah prophecies. 

When someone comes who can make the deaf hear and the lame dance...

...They know that the rest of the covenant promise is about to be fulfilled

They know that restoration is coming

That vindication is coming, as Isa 35 said 

That salvation is coming



So not that J shows up and says let me do some cool things so you’ll believe me when I say hard things like “The father and I are one” or “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood”

He’s saying look: here’s the proof that I am coming to fulfill the promises and renew the covenant

I come doing the things you have been waiting for

I will save you, but maybe not as you thought, from the Romans

I will vindicate you, but maybe not as you assumed

I am the promise-fulfiller, and he had to show that he was qualified to be that 

That’s why he did miracles. 



So when we see these things, it’s not just that J likes healing people or feels that he has to, but that it is the sign which they can understand. 

It’s the sign that tells the people What time is is

And what time is it, when J comes preaching and healing?

It is the time of their vindication, salvation, and redemption








Sunday, September 2, 2018

Weightier Things of the Law

There is a core to the Law, the Torah. It is the ethical demands summed up in the 10 Commandments, but presented throughout. Jesus did not change these; in fact his goal was to emphasize them when other would've made them secondary to tiny prescription of ritual purity. Around that core is the rest of the 613 commands of the Jewish Bible. Jesus kept those in his day, but the Apostles—interpreting what he said here and elsewhere—felt safe in making those ritual requirements optional, while still insisting on the moral core found in the Decalogue and highlighted in Jesus' teachings. Finally, around that second layer of the Mosaic Law, there had grown up traditions that were good up to a point, but that Jesus sees the people choosing to focus on while "neglecting the weightier things of the Law" through their focus on picayune things of manners and customs while turning a blind eye to what really mattered: the ethical choices of the heart. In the heart, in the will, lies virtue and vice, goodness and evil, purity and that which defiles.

(Apologies, I thing I twice say "Mark 6" instead of Mark 7. I must've still had John 6 on the brain.)



Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Viganò Crisis and John Chapter 6

Last night, an 11-page bombshell letter from the former Papal Nuncio to America, Archbishop Viganò, detailed how a large number of Cardinals knew about the Cardinal McCarrick scandals and that Pope Francis undid the sanctions placed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict. We must be as prudent and patient as we have been with priest and bishop allegations, but this is a huge claim. It's intense and a little scary. If bishops and cardinals start picking sides the Jesus' Bride and Body facing even more marring and scarring. But that's all the more then why we need the words of Peter in John 6. We need to decide (like Joshua and Peter and Aquinas): do we stick with God because we reason that if Truth is not truthful then nothing else is true? Do we stick with the Bride of Christ in sickness and in health; in good times and in bad?


(I have to run for now; I will try to get a transcript up in the next 24 hours.)

Sunday, August 19, 2018

You, Follow Me.

As I re-read it, today's homily seems to have a contradiction in it: that on the one hand we need to be ready to follow Jesus even if the Church, every bishop and priest fails us...and yet on the other hand the reason we adhere to the Catholic Church is that it has the sacraments and the fullness of the truth, which come to us from the successors of the Apostles. I guess I must ask you to forgive my hyperbole. Be a Catholic because this is where the Word of God, spoken and edible, lives. But don't be surprised if the we see things fall apart and we have to live in a wilderness at times, and don't be afraid to do that bravely.


20th Sunday, Year B

You, Follow Me.



Today is the anniversary of my conversion back to the Catholic Faith.

Granted, it’s not the date.

This is more like when converts who entered the Church at the Easter Vigil consider all Easter Vigils their anniversary, whether it April 10th or March 28.

Or priests’ anniversary of their first Masses: 

Like, Fr. Rowan’s was on Pentecost and mine was Corpus Christi, and two that feast day is kind of forever your anniversary, regardless of when those feasts land in the spring.

And here it’s not a even feast day; but an anniversary of a gospel, today’s Gospel, the end of John 6.


Now, officially it wasn’t a conversion, it was a re-version, since I grew up a cradle Catholic.

I even attended a Catholic high school.

But hadn’t been to confession in years.

And for years I would skip Mass probably 3 out of 4 Sundays a month.

All this despite living a block-and-a-half away from the local church.

I’ll tell that story another time, but sister and I would skip most Sundays and go to the local gas station or drug store.


My conversion back to Christianity really stretched over the 9 months of my junior year of high school.

I had come to realize at the beginning of the year thatI wanted to live for something more than just myself, which is where I had been the last 3, 4, 5 years.

I had come to appreciate good friendships and especially friends who strove for virtue.

And by the spring, I came to recognize Jesus as person I needed to follow.

But I wasn’t convinced that this return voyage was going to park its ship at the port of the Catholic Church by any means.

Part of that was 16-year-old arrogance and rebelliousness: Surely whatever my parents think is true is at least 75% likely to be totally wrong.

Part of it was that I really wanted to know the truth, and to look at that for myself.

But as it so happened, just as I was wrestling with this, I ran into several deep young Catholics (from Nebraska, believe it or not) who were willing to talk until late into the night with several of us high schoolers on the front porch of the house of my friend Jill. 

They pushed me; pushed me on my doubts: They asked if I trusted the gospel writers.

Yes.

They asked if I trusted Jesus.

Yes.

Then you have to go to the Bread of Life discourse; have to go to John 6.

And that’s the chapter we have been working our way through this last month.


Open missalette up to p. 55

He has already twice said: I am the bread (v. 34, 48) last week.

Now, that perhaps could’ve been symbolic, metaphoric.


This week’s section repeats the last line from last week’s gospel, where Jesus raises the bar even from that image of “bread of life”.

v. 51 “The bread that I will give is my flesh”


Maybe even then it might not be literal,  but it’s weird that he wasn’t breaking off when they seemed concerned.

We’ve seen Jesus correct a misunderstanding among the disciples before. “Ok, Let’s go back to the house; I’ll reexplain this.”

But he’s not backing off. In fact he’s doubling down!


This leads to them quarreling among themselves, but he pushes them even farther.

v. 53 “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life within you.”

your life depends on it


We would think he can’t raise the stakes any more.

Oh yes he can!


Switch verbs v. 54 

I did not know this. We were looking at an English bible 

They explained that the Greek changes. You can look it up later, they said.

The Greek word thus far had been phagēte, which is where we get “esophagus”. It means eating in the broadest terms.

But at v. 54 John uses a different Greek verb, trōgōn, which means to chew, gnaw, munch. 

So, “whoever chews, gnaws, my flesh…”


And then as if he can hear the doubts in our minds he reaffirms: my flesh is true food, my blood true drink v. 55 

Again with trōgōn on v. 56: “whoever gnaws my flesh and gulps my blood…”


Again and again, just when you think he couldn’t make the point any stronger, he keeps beating you over the head with the idea of really eating.


And we know they walked away. Next week’s gospel is all about that. 

They walk away. And he didn’t stop them. He doesn’t say “Wait, I was kidding: it’s a metaphor.”


At that moment, on that night, I was pretty convinced.

I did checked a resource on the internet the next day. It was 1996 so it was pretty low tech, but I did check the Liddell & Scott, which is the go-to greek dictionary. And the two Protestants affirmed that that is what trōgōn meant.


I knew then I couldn’t be a Baptist or an Evangelical or a Presbyterian. 

The words of Jesus were too plain for any of their explanations. 

I could’ve still been a Lutheran. For Luther did not reject the bodily presence of Jesus in the host

But I figured if the Catholic Church had held onto that one nugget when Calvin and Zwingli and John Hus and Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer were all blasting away at it, I figured the odds were in the Catholic Church’s favor. 

And I found myself a thoroughly convinced Catholic again when it came to the sacraments. 

And when it came to all the other questions of the faith, that—amazingly my 16 year old mind hadn’t perfectly grasped yet—I said: if this beat up old Church got the Eucharist right when no one else seems to have, I’m betting they got the rest right too. 

That was when I came back to the Catholic Church in my mind and in my heart.

Started going back to Mass and Confession

And many other people have stories like this, converts and reverts alike: that it was John 6 that brought them to the fullness of faith.




I think it’s good to be reminded of this when we read the news headlines and want to despair.

Cardinal McCarrick, 3-4 weeks ago

Allegations in our own Lincoln diocese 

Then this week the Pennsylvania grand jury report:

    6 dioceses
    300 perpetrators 
    A thousand victims 
    Over 70 years

If there is a little consolation that that number it is over so much time and and such a broad geographic stretch, there is also the realization then that this was really universal.

Worst part of it for many is the sweeping under the rug by multiple generations of bishops.

Saying: “Don’t tell anybody; it’ll make the Church look bad.” 

“Don’t tell anybody; it’ll hurt the people’s faith.”

Well, it hurts their faith now.


It’s crushing

It sickens the heart

It grows disenchantment and despair within faithful Catholics

All those things of 2 weeks ago of “feelings deserve to be felt” come rushing back with a vengeance. 

Most powerful of feelings 

And a desire to act.

People want to fight back.

People want to call down fire and damnation on bishops everywhere.

And priests everywhere.

Notice three feelings especially: anger, despair , and fear 



Let’s start with anger

And I think I must still live in something of a bubble here in rural Nebraska 

Because I get angry phone calls, one after another, from friends in other parts of America just yelling. 

Yelling at me: “You guys need to do something.”

Yelling about the Church: “I’m sick, I’m disgusted.”

Lay friends, priest friends, guys who were in the seminary and left.

People who are ready to walk. 

Walk out of their churches. Stop supporting their dioceses. March in protest to bishops’ residences. 

The image that some have painted for me is not unlike those people who are “Doomsday Preppers” 

You know people who are storing food and weapons for a nuclear holocaust, or “the grid” failing, or a zombie apocalypse.

But these are preppers for a disintegrating Church.

When you’re a kid growing up—well, at least if you’re a boy growing up—I think there is an almost universal experience of wondering if when you’re an adult there will be a war, and what it would be like.

We read about and see movies about WWII and Civil War and you wonder what you would do. Even like with St. Maximilian Kolbe

That’s what it feels like when you here people talking like that. 

What will happen within our Church?

Will there be disintegration?

Will there be war from within or from without? 


In several different times and ways this has been prophesied: 

What I am about to read to does not actually come from Pope John Paul II, it comes from him when he’s just Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, in 1976 when he came to the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia. He said:

We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel. 

“We must be prepared to undergo great trials in the not-too-distant future; trials that will require us to be ready to give up even our lives, and a total gift of self to Christ and for Christ. Through your prayers and mine, it is possible to alleviate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it. . . . How many times has the renewal of the Church been brought about in blood! It will not be different this time.

40 years ago when he said it people might have thought he meant between Christianity and Atheistic Communism.

20 years ago, once he was Pope, it might have been assumed to mean war between Faith and secularism.

Today it might be read as actual division within the Church itself along moral lines.

There is a war. There’s always been a war between good and evil.

What the whole book of Revelation about: there is always a great battle going on, not just at the end of time, they way some people think.

Perpetual fight. Why we say the St. Michael prayer after every Mass.

Sometimes we just don’t see it openly in front of us.


The reality of an ongoing war can be a good wake-up call.

But this can become a trap for us. 

Sometimes our righteous anger, or our seeing a battle out there, can warp our focus into becoming just culture warriors.

Can lead to us becoming those religious “preppers” and church conspiracy theorists.


And maybe some people can live like that, but I can’t.

And I don’t know that that is what Jesus wants.

Remember the last chapter of John’s gospel.

Peter has just had his re-confession of faith, his reconversion.

Three times he said, “Lord you know I love.” 

Three times Jesus answered: “Peter, feed my sheep.”

And Jesus has told him that he will eventually be taken prisoner and led where he does not want to go and die, just like Jesus himself did.

And Peter points down the beach to St. John and asks “What about him? What will happen to him?”

And Jesus says: “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours? You, follow me.”

That’s essential. In the midst of all other trials and wars and rumors of wars, Jesus is saying to us “No. You, follow me.”




Despair

A very real feeling. 

Do we even still trust in the Church, in our priests, in our bishops?

Is God still protecting and inspiring his Church?

I’ve read quite a number of articles about people thinking about  leaving and even more from people who are hurting but not leaving.

Those in the second category all come back to two main things:
  • Jesus established a church and we can trace that historically in the Catholic church
  • even more of them, pointing back to the sacraments—the very thing that brought me back at age 16—that the Catholic church offers something in those sacraments that the other churches don’t.

Two thoughts on despair:

First, this feeling—this split feeling of the benefit of the sacraments but of awareness of the unworthiness of their ministers—is not new. 

This book is Holy Thursday, by Francois Mauriac. I think I’ve read out of it to you during Holy Week before.

Even back in 1931, he had no illusions about who priests were. In his chapter "Holy Orders" he writes:

“The twelve apostles are the first twelve priests; Judas is the first bad priest.”

Again, it’s 1931. He’s still very affirming of the clergy (maybe almost too much at times) but notice as I read the next part that he’s also incredibly honest about the clergy’s flaws and how people scoff at their failures. 

The grace of Holy Thursday will be transmitted unto the end of time, unto the last of the priests who will celebrate the last Mass in a shattered universe. Holy Thursday created these men; a mark was stamped on them; a sign was given to them. They are like to us and yet so different-a fact never more surprising than in this pagan age. People say that there is a scarcity of priests. In truth, what an adorable mystery it is that there still are any priests. They no longer have any human advantage. Celibacy, solitude, hatred very often, derision and, above all, the indifference of a world in which there seems to be no longer room for them-such is the portion they have chosen. […] A pagan atmosphere prevails all around them. The people would laugh at their virtue if they believed in it, but they do not.  They are spied upon. A thousand voices accuse those who fall. As for the others, the greater number, no one is surprised to see them toiling without any sort of recognition, without appreciable salary, bending over the bodies of the dying or ambling about the parish schoolyards.

Honestly, he’s probably being a little too generous there.

It’s 1931 and he’s still largely a fan; he doesn’t know how bad things might get over the next 85 years.


A second thought on despair:

Remember what I told you two week ago about the Japanese Catholics?

Why did they last 300 years without priests and sacraments?

Because they didn’t despair.

They didn’t look down the beach and ask about what God was doing for other Christians in other lands, like Peter did with John.

They heard Jesus’ words to them, “You follow me.”

Even with no visible Church for centuries, they got it:

You, follow me.





Fear 

We fear we’ll lose more priests.

More will be taken for evaluation.

More moved to cover others priests who have been removed.

Our country already has a priest shortage and parishes are consolidated.

What if even 10% of those existing priests were put on administrative leave?

Or if they just gave up in this time of trial and walked away?



But the truth is: 

Even if you lose your priests,

Even if you lose every priest,

You know what to do:

Follow Jesus.

It’s what he told Peter.

It’s what he tells us.



You were never in it for the priest.

Good help you if you were in it for a Bishop.

You might be forgiven if you were in it for a Pope, since we’ve had some pretty amazing ones over the last 200 years. 


But at the end of the day, it was never for any of them.

You’re in it for Jesus.

You’re in it for the Jesus who gives you those sacraments.

You’re in it for the Jesus who saved you and gave you grace.

You’re in it for the Jesus who founded a Church regardless of how many screwed up people are part of it.




To conclude then, let's go back to that line I read a few minutes ago from Holy Thursday:

“The grace of Holy Thursday will be transmitted unto the end of time, unto the last of the priests who will celebrate the last Mass in a shattered universe.”

Kind of a scary image

But even once that last Mass has been said by the last priest in a broken world, you still know what to do:

Even on the day after that: You, follow Jesus.