Monday, March 4, 2019

Jesus' 30 For 30 Documentary

Lent and Easter are basically an ESPN "30 For 30" documentary of Jesus' victory. Big audio clips of the protagonist, real-time insights from the bystanders, interviews with the apostles years later, and a sweet highlight reel. It's one for the ages. This Lent I want to encourage you not just to give something up or do some extra act of Christ's love, but also to learn something from the documentary. Study, pray, engage your mind this Lent. Training our bodies is great, but maybe try a Lenten Bible study, read a spiritual book, or use the massive amounts of professional audio and video content on Formed.org (if you are in my parish, go to the bulletin and get our parish code and get on; it takes one minute to register.) Trade the kids 30 minutes of tv or games for a Formed show. Do it to yourself too: 50 minute drama on Netflix? Cool, now learn about the Christian faith on Formed or read your book. This year, our parish book studies are reading "Searching For And Maintaining Peace" by Fr. Jacques Phillipe. Nobody tells deeper truths in a more accessible way than him!



8th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Jesus' "30 For 30" Documentary

Today I want to zoom in on just one line out of our letter to the Corinthians. The last couple of weeks we've been hanging around in 1st Corinthians Chapter 15. That's the long one on Jesus' resurrection. We've been getting lots of different thoughts out of that reflection there by Saint Paul. This is a famous line here and it seems like it's a quote from somewhere else. Paul tells us this: "[…] that the word that is written shall come about: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

So St. Paul, while talking about Jesus death and resurrection, is saying this is the victory and it's the victory over sin and death. Now, obviously we know that. We're Catholics, we've known that our entire life.

But I want you to see how much victory is a theme that's used throughout the story of Israel and the story of the Scriptures: Even at our moment of greatest defeat, the moment of greatest failure—in the garden with Adam and Eve—already God was making a promise that someday there would be victory, someday there would be one who would stomp the head of the serpent, and that that one would come...some day. And then the rest of the Bible as the unfurling of this promise in action.

When God's people are oppressed: when they're stuck down in Egypt—God acts and gives victory—victory at the Red Sea, victory through the Ten Plagues, victory over the Philistines, victory over their enemies and things like that. And again and again we see this image of victory.

When Jesus comes proclaiming the gospel—what we have seen the last couple of weeks since the beginning of this year—he's proclaiming victory already. Remember this year started with him going into the synagogue in Nazareth and saying, as he reads this line about how captives are set free, a year of Jubilee is announced, and he says, "This is fulfilled in your very hearing." He's not saying, "I'm going to do victories." This is victory right now. "I'm doing victory. What we're doing right now: this is victory in your midst."

And that makes more sense of what he does. What's he doing in all these little towns as he goes around Galilee? He's throwing parties. He's gathering people together and they're having parties right there. And people are even asking him, "Why aren't you fasting?" He's like, "Because this is a time of victory. This is a time of party. This is a time of rejoicing." And so he's hitting the idea of "This is victory."

That's why it's so confusing then when he gets captured, when he gets beaten, when he gets denounced and scourged and crucified and killed, because you're like, "No no no no no. This is the victory guy, right? We’re the midst of a three year run of victory! What happened?" Victory fell apart (it seemed) on Good Friday.

But of course we know that's not where the story ends, right? That instead there is an even greater victory out of that. If it seemed to be victorious what he was doing in Galilee, it's even greater what he does in Jerusalem when he comes out of the grave on the third day. That's an even greater victory. That's the one Paul is referring to: "Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" And then that's what the apostles go out preaching: that Jesus is the victor of the world; that he has come as conqueror; that he has conquered not only the way they thought was going to happen throughout the Jewish Scriptures, but he's conquered an even bigger enemy. He's conquered sin and death and the grave himself, and the God has vindicated him and given him victory. (The words go together—vindication and victory.)

And that's what they go proclaiming everywhere they go. And Paul even goes and does it right under the nose of Caesar. All the little towns that Paul goes to in the Roman world? They're Roman colonies, meaning: Caesar dropped his closest companions, his soldiers, the most loyal people to him, in those towns like Phillippi and Corinth. And Paul shows up saying, "Caesar is not the king of the world; Caesar is not the victor over everything. Jesus is. Jesus is the victor and I'm here to proclaim his victory. That's my gospel—my proclamation, my announcement—that the victory has been won by Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed, the king. And that's what the message of the Early Church is: that victory has been achieved.

I bring this up because that's what Lent—and leading into Easter—really is. It's us coming back to the story of that victory. It's retelling it. Lent and Easter are like the "30 For 30" film of the story of Jesus. It's a mix of documentary footage—we get later reflections, with Peter being like, "I sure didn't think he was going to do it, and then dang, there it was!" You know? It's the apostles telling the story of their amazement. And then we get to see footage, we see clips, from the victory of Jesus. We see that moment on the cross where it seems like loss……Ope, comeback victory! Right? We see Jesus rising from the dead: "There he is! There he is in glory!" It's the highlight reel in the documentary of Jesus' great victory. That's what Lent and Easter are: telling us that story again, of the great victory.

So now we're coming up on that. We're about to start our annual rewatching of that "30 For 30" —of that documentary again. We're getting ready to dive in. Next Wednesday is Lent. I don't think that I need to review for you all the Lenten stuff of which you got to do, what you're going to give up. You know, no meat on this day, and fasting on that day, and stuff like that. You can find that in the bulletin.

But let's talk about what we can do to prepare. As we're getting ready for this season, as we're trying to choose what we should do, I know usually our first thought is, "What do I need to give up?" Candy. Chocolate. TV. Pop. Whatever. We're picking things, maybe as a family to give up, maybe as individuals. We're usually looking at that. And sometimes we look for extra things to do. What's the thing I can add? What's the thing I can do different? What's the thing that I can change in my life or do better in life? All those are great.

I do want to encourage you this—and I'm going to specifically say maybe consider doing this as your big thing this year as your penance—specifically try to learn something new. To add to your intellectual formation. To be more educated about our Faith. Every year you know we have those Bible studies and there in the back; there's like 10 sheets for different bible studies, different times, different groups. Look through them and say: Is there a time, is there a group, is there a place, that I can make work?" Because you might think, "Well [a book study] doesn't sound very hard." But having to block out a certain amount of time? That is hard in our busy schedules. And it requires a certain discipline, more than just being like, "I'm going to be nice to people for Lent; I'm going go and do this act." Having to say, "I'm going to dive into this study. I'm going to read. I'm going to listen. I'm going to pray. I going to talk to other people when I don't want to talk to other people...and share." That is actually a great penance.

When someone says, "You know I'm just better off giving up pop,"—and not taking anything away from that—but sometimes it might be a greater penance to be like, "No, I'm going to get a book. I'm going to watch a good show."

You know we've had Formed.org for months—I showed you about a year ago—the online service. Go there. Every year they're adding new stuff at Lent. Go to Formed.org. The code is still on our bulletin. Just take that little code put it in; it takes less than one minute to sign up for if you haven't already.

And that would be a great way to help your kids. Maybe you're like, "I don't think I can tell my kids, 'No television,' you know, given their age." Fine. Then say, "For every hour of Peppa Pig you're going to watch, well let's also watch an hour of something on Formed.org." And then do it to yourself. For every half hour "Parks and Rec" or "Friends" that you watch on Netflix say, "I'm going to watch a little half hour show or I'm going to listen to a little 30 minute thing on Formed.org."

Or spend the time on Catholic Radio or someplace else. Challenge yourself. If all you've ever done is simply give something up, or even do something extra—taking nothing away from that!—try something new, different, maybe scary, and say: "What can I learn? What kind of formation can I have? What kind of things can I pull to build myself up in that way?" Look for ways of understanding the story better. Look for ways of understanding the victory of God better. Take that in and soak that in.

I have one last thing, and it doesn't connect, and that's why I just took a big breath—because it doesn't connect with my flow at all. I do want to say this: Another thing that you can consider is having Masses offered. We always have room for more Masses. (We've gone through all of our All Souls' Day Masses.) Having a Mass offered—and then specifically if you’re coming to that Mass—is a great way of saying, "I'm not just saying I'm going to pray more," I've made it concrete. And I'm praying for someone who is important me. I'm making a sacrifice for someone important me.

So contact Peg at the office let her know someone that you want to pray for. It doesn't have to be a deceased person. It can be a person in trouble; it can be a person who's suffering; it can be a person who's away from the faith. It can be just a special intention. Put that in and then maybe especially say, "And I'm going to attend that Mass also." That's an extra little sacrifice: an external thing we do, that we don't normally think about in Lent, but might be a great way to build up our mind not just in learning about Jesus but also celebrating the victory he had in Lent and Easter.





Monday, February 11, 2019

The Gospel **Is** the Tradition

"I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received..." If the rest of 1 Cor 15:3-5 is the tightly compressed summary of the Christian story—that he died for sins, was buried, was raised, and was seen—then this introductory line tells us quite a lot too. 1) This is of first importance; this is the stuff you need to know above all else. 2) Paul handed it on to them, first in person, now in this letter. What he is reminding them now (verse 1) is the gospel he had preached, and the verb for "handing on" is where we get "tradition", just like in "Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." The gospel, the good news, the tale of the paschal mystery, is the Apostolic Tradition that we hold fast to and build our lives around.



Sunday, February 3, 2019

Agape

1st Corinthians chapter 13 is one of the most widely quoted passage of the Bible. Some sentimentalize it. Some write it off as cliche. But if we give it the right kind of look, we can find amazing treasures in there. 



4th Sunday, Year C

1 Cor 13 


Today I want to look at the second reading.

Open to page 54

Last weekend I gave only the most passing glance at the second reading. 

My main topic was Catholic Schools, and if you weren’t here for that one, I would encourage you to look up the audio of that one on the parish website or on my blog. 


This, today, is 1 Corinthians chapter 13. 

This is St. Paul’s great “hymn to love”

This, or parts of this, have been read at countless weddings, 
quoted in letters, 
embossed on greeting cards. 

It IS St. Paul at some of his rhetorical best

But it’s not just magnificent poetry and sentimental words. 

1 Cor 13 REALLY is both a beautiful exhortation, and high theology besides. 


So I’m going to make about 4-5 points 


First point: context 

Context really matters here. 

So start by going backwards 

P. 52

Let’s see where we ended because, while today’s reading is mostly chapter 13, the first verse comes from the previous chapter, ch. 12, 

and of course chapter breaks are artificial: they were added much later. 

For Paul this is just a straight continuous thought.



Now again, last week, I just had the readers read the short version of the second reading, so we didn’t go into the details.

But if you scan it quickly, you will recognize it’s the famous description of the church is the body of Christ, and how the body has many parts, all of which act differently, and or necessary and unique.

So, “Should the ear complain that it’s not an eye?”, 

Or “What would happen if the body was all hands and no feet?”

This is Paul talking about how we are all One, 
but we have different gifts. 

And you’ll notice that the last couple of verses here are him talking about the different gifts that people might have in the church. 

And he names some of them: 

apostleship, 
prophecy, 
teaching, 
healing, 
speaking in tongues. 


OK now turn back to page 54, because that is literally the very next line. There are no words in between the end of that in the beginning of today’s reading

So Paul has just given a long list of gifts, and he’s even given what seems to be a ranking of them in terms of power and prestige.


But then he suddenly turns a sharp corner.

Here is he saying: “yes, strive for the greatest spiritual gifts…”

“BUT I shall show you a yet more excellent way”

A more excellent way. 

More excellent than prophecy? 

More excellent than being an apostle?

Yes.

The way of love. 



Leads us to point 2

The comparisons

The structure and flow of Paul’s thought in this chapter is flawless. 

He begins by saying there’s something above these great gifts.

And then before he even names it—before he tells you that it is “love” he is thinking of—he starts by naming things we might think are better. 

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love, 
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”

Without love, I would be just noise. 

In the previous chapter he has just talked about people thinking that the ability to speak in tongues was a great gift, but that’s the gift he “shows up” first.

And also realize, he has just thrown himself under the bus—because what is Paul’s greatest skill? Speaking. 

Speeches, 
sermons, 
public debates, 
private conversations...

That is his superpower.

But without love?

He is a noisy gong. 

And what if even the angels taught him to speak their language?

Clashing cymbal. 


Next up: 3 gifts
Prophecy—like a mystic
Understand all the mysteries—like a church doctor 
Faith that can move mountains....

But if I do not have love, I AM NOTHING


It’s interesting: we don’t need to have Martin Luther arguing with the Council of Trent over the question of faith alone, 

or pit St. Paul in Romans against St. James on faith. 

Paul himself says right here: a person with “even faith so as to move mountains, it he doesn’t have love, is nothing.” 

You have faith? 
Good. Now show it in love. 

Just like James said. 

Just like 1 John says.  


And notice he keeps going up the ladder:
Tongues—lower level
Prophecy and theology—getting jogger
Last one—presumably the highest: “hand over my body” 

A reference to martyrdom 

Highest of crowns

And yet, if I didn’t do it out of love, with love, for love...

It gains me nothing 



Point 3: As we move on to the most widely quoted part of the passage, let’s pause and ask: 


what is this love we are speaking of?

It’s pretty obvious that the kind of love that Paul is talking about here is not merely the love we have for ice cream, or a TV show, or puppy love or any kind of merely passing emotional burst. 

It’s not a crush. 
It’s not infatuation. 
It’s not “Stan-ing”. 

It’s a love that will lay down its life. 

It’s a love that can extend to strangers. 

It’s a love that can even extend to enemies and persecutors.


You have probably heard that in Greek there are several words for love, whereas in English we just use one

This true. 

There are words like philia, from which we might call some one a bibliophile—a book lover. Or a Francophile—someone who loves all things French. 

There is Eros. From which we get the word erotic. And with means a sensual, romantic, passionate love. 

And you probably know that the word here is “Agápe”

But it’s not like there was this Greek word just laying around meaning all those deep, selfless, unconditional, sacrificial things. 

No. 
The apostles had to PUT those ideas in there 
as the translated the story of the Hebrew God 
and the Hebrew Messiah 
out into a Greek. 

The old Greek Agápe had a sense of: cordial, pleasing, affectionate, warm, gracious 

That was the seldomly-used Greek word that the Apostles picked up to try to describe how: 
God was acting a certain way to us, 
and Jesus acting that way back to his father, 
and that action would take him to his death, 
and it was the thing that filled the new Christians. 

But THEY filled it up with meaning. 

With John constantly telling us about the this Agápe that Jesus and his Father have for each other,

And the evangelists fill it with image of the man looking for his lost sheep and the father looking for his lost son, 

And since Paul wrote most of his stuff before the gospels, we cannot doubt this famous paragraph here might be Paul trying to draw together all the things he and the apostles meant when the talked about God’s Agápe which sought them out, and the Agápe which must animate them. 

Like most priests, I see this passage a lot at weddings, but unlike some, I don’t think it’s cliche.

I mean, even if you take the most hardline “love is a choice, not a feeling” emphasis on the word, this I hard to beat:

Patient 
Not jealous
Not rude
Doesn’t seek its interests
Quick to forgive
Bears all things
Hopes all things

That’s as fitting for the mom of a toddler, the couple on their honeymoon, the adult children taking care of a disabled parent, the friend with an open ear. 


Point 4: the ending

A little confusing 

In 3 or 4 quick ideas, Paul brings his “ode” to a close

Some people feel they are mixed metaphors or confusing:

Other gifts shall cease. 
I used to talk as a child. 
We see and know now only partially. 
FHL, & The greatest is love. 


Actually looping back around to the first 2 points:

If you have to choose—choose love. 

Of all the gifts you could pursue—pursue love. 

If you have other gifts but don’t have love, 
that was a bad call, 
because those others will cease. 



5: But let me say this then as a wrap up:

If we read this passage careful and take in the whole context, we realize...

Paul is not saying: 
Don’t work
Don’t strive for understanding  
Don’t teach
Don’t heal 
Don’t administer 
Don’t grow in faith 

He’s saying do those things, but never forget love. 

Do them out of love,
With love,
For love. 

Because that is the core, that is what will remain after your work is done. 

And that was always a better motivation for doing them in the first place. 


So I beg you, 
when read or hear or think of this more-than-a-little famous passage:

Don’t over-sentimentalize it. 
But don’t write it off as cliche. 

Really is one of the best we summaries of the Christian life we have:

From the divine Agápe that first motivates, 

to the final Love in which we are hoping to rest,

and all the loves we give and receive in between,


It really is a great exhortation to the greatest of all virtues.