Monday, August 12, 2019

Abraham Reasoned...

Is there any variant of the story of Abraham and Isaac that doesn't make God look bad and Abraham complicit in evil? If no, what does that mean for us? If yes, what might that mean for Adam and Jesus? The Letter to the Hebrews chapter 11 has some thoughts.

Also, regarding this homily:

1) Sorry about the crazy whistle I made at 0:05. That was straight up just my teeth and tongue positioned weirdly when trying to say "So".

2) About 10 seconds from the end I made the error of saying Abraham's faith "inspired" Jesus. I don't think that is accurate. Better to say Jesus' faith was in the same line as Abraham, which I basically did right after. #HeresyAutocorrect

3) I'll try to get the text of the homily up eventually.

4) There was no time for it in the homily, but the passages I cited from Hebrews 11 are one of the best places to argue that either St. Paul was the Letter's author or at least the author is very familiar with Paul's arguments in Romans chapter 4:16-21.

As it is written: “I have made you [Abraham] a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 
Paul in Romans never says the clinching line about Abraham reasoning that God could even raise a dead Isaac, but once you've read Hebrews 11 it's hard to not read both Isaac's birth and his sacrifice into this section of Romans. Especially because Paul immediately seems to do some midrash himself by suggesting that "his faith was credited to him as righteousness" wasn't so much about Abraham believing when he was told about the number of descendants/stars right there in Genesis 15 itself, but more of his perseverance in waiting for Isaac after that. And then then Paul immediately ties that faith directly to those who believe God raised Jesus from the dead:
Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:20-25)

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Reshith, Exitus, and Reditus

The homily Saturday night was long and confusing. So I rewrote it for Sunday morning such that it would merely be long. 😂😅 (Actually, it is only 11 minutes.) The three great Paulines hymns—the captivity letters' hymns—give us a great chance to ponder God's story, as opposed to the story of the People of God which we normally do. And the Colossians hymn is a chance to look inside Paul's fascinating Hebrew-Greek brain and to watch him meditate and riddle and play around with the idea of who the Word made flesh is.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Galatians and Grace Alone

The Jews believed in sola gratia ("by grace alone"). Paul believed in sola gratia. Catholics believe in sola gratia.  This was never the debate in the letter to the Galatians. Heck, Galatians isn't even about being saved or how to get to heaven.

Galatians and Grace Alone

14th Sunday of the Year, C

Today we're going to look at Galatians chapter 6. Open your books to page 25.  It's the very end of Galatians. We're literally getting the last five verses here. We actually have to backtrack eventually at one point, but for right now we're just going to these last verses, as presented here. 

There is going to come a point where I'm going to have you put your books down or put your finger in there because you're not going to need him for a long stretch but I don't want you to put them away. 

So Galatians, especially this part, is like an onion. There's many layers and you start peeling back the easy layers and starts getting trickier and trickier. So we start off with actually a really easy line and a beautiful one. The very first line there: "Brothers and sisters, may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Man, what a great line: "may never boast except in the cross of Jesus.". 

It's a great motto. You can see, it sounds great in songs. We have songs with it. You can put on the back of your car as a bumper sticker, put it on a shirt, put it on your water bottle, or your Yeti tumbler, you know whatever you want. It's a great line to advertise. "May we always glory only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." That's that's that great first layer. 

Then you peel back another layer in the next line and it gets a little weirder. Because he says, about this cross, "...through which the world has been crucified to me and to the world.". 

"Crucified to the world." What does that mean exactly? I mean it sounds cool. Sounds tough. I mean, crucified to the world. But what's it mean? 

Does it mean I need to die to myself? Doesn't mean I need to suffer for the world? Paul invites us in other places to do that. Does it mean I need to die to the world? That I need to escape the world.? It's a little confusing what it means. 

And actually it has an interesting parallel earlier in the book in chapter two. In Galatians chapter two, Paul says something similar. He says: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me.". 

Here [chapter 6] he is saying, not specifically "crucified with Christ" but I've been crucified the world. So there's a bit of a parallel and we'll actually see other things from that chapter [two] later. So that's another look. 

Now you put the layers of the onion back even further. Go farther in all. Now it gets even weirder. Paul says: "For neither does circumcision mean anything nor uncircumcision, but only a new creation." Okay now it's weird. Now we're talking about circumcision. 

How did we get there? We started off talking about glorying in the cross and then having been crucified the world. And now we're talking about circumcision or non circumcision or new creation. Where are we? What are we doing here? It's getting confusing. 

Now there is a way of reading Galatians that pulls all three of these together— glorying in the cross, being crucified like Jesus, with Jesus to the world, and this idea of circumcision. Many Protestants read it in this way, and a lot of Catholics honestly, too, read it in this particular way. And we will look at this way of peeling back the onion right now. 

But I want you now to put your books to the side or put your finger in it because we're gonna pause on that for a little bit. 

So first, how do we read those three? First of all. Everyone agrees the Galatians is about an argument that happened about 50 A.D. Paul is very wound up in this letter. He's a little spicy. It's one of the earliest letters of Paul, maybe even his very first letter. 

OK so first, what is it that everybody agrees upon? Everyone agrees that Paul preaches Jesus to the Jews. Many of them believe and are baptized into the Messiah's family. Then he preaches to the Gentiles. Many of them believe and are baptized into Jesus the Messiah's family. 

And the people then ask Peter and Paul both: "Don't these people—now that they're coming into God's family—don't they need to do 'the rest'? They're entering the Messiah's family in baptism. They're worshiping the one God like Israel does. Don't they need to do more? We are saying that they're now in the people of God, so don't they need to be like the rest of the people of God, like the nation of Israel? We know they can't be made into Jews genetically, by blood, but don't they need to do the other things? Don't they need to be physically, anatomically a Jew, in terms of circumcision? Don't they need to be legally, ritually a Jew in terms of what they eat, how they dress, how they do their chores, and stuff like that? —following all the things of the Law, the Torah, the Hebrew "Law". And Peter and Paul both say: "Nope. They don't need to do that." 

But now, people begin to disagree with Peter and Paul, both in Galatia, which is southern Turkey, and in Antioch in Syria, which is north of Galilee. A faction arises within the Christian body. These are Christians. And history calls them Judaizers, which literally means "people who want to make people Jews", make them into Jews. These are people who are ethnically Jewish, but who believe in Jesus. They are practicing Christians, but they see a problem in there being a group who are like them in belief and worship but still seem like Gentiles to the rest of the world. And we're going to come back to that problem—"how does the world see these guys"—near the end. 

So these Judaizers go around and they start convincing other Christians that Gentile converts either need to get fully Judaized (go all the way in with all the other stuff) or they would need to sit and eat and wash and dwell apart from them because really they're still Gentiles. They're still different from the Jewish people. 

Now this is where the interpretations differ. This is where you get the different ones. The one that, again, many Protestants and some Catholics take is that these Judaizers, or maybe all Jews, or least kind of the Pharisee-type of Jews, that they are trying to win their salvation by their works. That being circumcised, following all the purity laws, including the food laws, would win them heaven. That they thought they could earn salvation. When you hear the expression "works-righteousness", this is the idea coming up: that they're doing works that will make them righteous in the sight of God. 

And then the idea is that along comes Paul and he argues that it's not circumcision, or any other part of the Jewish law, or any work of any kind that saves us, just faith in Jesus. Specifically that Jesus' death on the cross did all the work. And so now we do not—in fact, we cannot—add anything else to that. So you don't need any Jewish works or rituals or anything else. Just believe in the saving power of the cross. And so Galatians (the book) is, in this interpretation, all about Paul arguing for salvation by faith in Jesus vs. salvation by works, especially works of the law. 

You've probably heard something like that before. And again even if it sounds like kind of a basic version of the Gospel as described by Luther or Calvin, many Catholics would generally agree that that's what the letter is about, but just tweaking it: understanding a balance of faith and sacraments and stuff like that. 

 Catholics and Protestants both often assume the Galatians is an argument about faith vs. works, specifically "the works of the law" vs. faith in Jesus' death and resurrection, and then they try to rally their other arguments from there, the normal Catholic/Protestant debating points. 

This [take] seems to tie together the three things that we just read: I glory in the cross of Christ, I am crucified to the world, and circumcision and uncircumcision don't matter. And earlier I referenced how this ending part of Galatians 6 parallels an idea in Galatians 2. And actually if I read more of Galatians 2 you'll see that it actually seems to tie in more, because it does seem to back up this interpretation. 

The longer excerpt from Galatians 2 is: "For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I've been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God for if righteousness could be gained through the law Christ died for nothing."

There's a lot of word-echoes there between those two passages, and with other things that we often hear: law, crucified, faith, gave himself up for me, grace, righteousness, and again, the idea of law. So yeah, the idea of "saved by grace through faith vs. obtaining righteousness by my efforts through doing works of the law" is a pretty clean narrative; it seems to click with what we've said. 

But there's three flaws I want to point out to you in that reading [i.e. interpretation]. Not saying that anything is totally wrong there. But it's a different reading of Galatians, and I think it comes at Galatians backwards. It's looking at Galatians instead of in the first century, we're trying to understand [it through] the 16th century, with arguments between Catholics and Protestants. 

So these are the three flaws in this interpretation: One, is it doesn't focus on what Jews actually thought about works. Two, Paul's own very weird words here in the ending. And three, what the Jewish Christians especially these Judaizers were actually worried about. 

So flaw #1, how did the Jews think they'd be saved? First off, if you read the Old Testament and the other Jewish works around Paul's and Jesus' times, there's hardly any discussion of how you die and get to heaven. That's not what they're talking about. 

The word "salvation" in that time almost [exclusively] means salvation in this world. Salvation from under Pharaoh in Egypt. Salvation from Roman domination. Salvation to be able to worship the one God freely and exactly how he wants us to. 

And secondly in those same Jewish writings and even in the writings of Paul himself—who would know these things—there is no evidence that any Jews thought they could earn their salvation. Or God's blessing. Or God's love. Or any other reward from God. And in fact the Jewish people are the original believers in Grace Alone, "sola gratia"—that it's all grace. Grace, remember, literally means "the gift". A free unearned gift from God. 

The Jews sang day after day of God's merciful love and his gift of calling them to be his people. 

God choosing Abraham and his family? Pure gift. 

God saving Israel from out of Egypt? Pure gift. 

Giving them the land, a temple, the Torah? Pure gift. 

How did you receive these blessings from God as a Jew? How did you receive his salvific love? By the sheer unearned gift of being born into the family in Israel. 

You couldn't plan that. You couldn't choose that. You didn't earn that. 

Everything that the Jewish people had was "gift". Everything was grace. 

And if they had any views of being saved in a world beyond this one, it was going to be bound up in that unique gift of being in God's chosen people. Being in the family of Israel, which actually helps us understand [the letter to the] Galatians. If the Jewish law, the old Torah and its instructions, aren't about getting saved and getting to heaven, what are circumcision and the food laws about? Why is this big a big thing? [Answer:] They're not about how do you get saved. They're about "How do you know who's in God's family?" Who is Israel?—There are those who keep the law, the Torah. They are Israel. The works of the law, the diet and the washings and the circumcision, were a badge of membership so you'd know who's in God's family. They were how you knew who was in the people of God. Who's in there. 

Okay now you could pick up your books again. Back to page 25. So that was Flaw #1: What did Jews actually thing about salvation? And it's not works righteousness. 

Flaw #2. That [interpretation] isn't really paying attention to what Paul says at the end here. Some people think that the good news, the gospel that Jesus and Paul preached, was that this is the ending of Israel. This is at least the end of the Torah, the law. Those things are done and put away. We've moved on from them. But look where we left off: We're on the bottom of the first column. Paul has just said: "For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation." And then he immediately says, "Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God."

"Follow this rule" (literally "this canon", [i.e. law] ) and he talks about "the Israel of God." The people of God isn't being deleted or canceled or revoked, but it is being reshaped around the family of the Messiah. And you get into his family, not by family lineage or genetics or even by doing the works of the law: circumcision, kosher foods, etc. How do you get into Messiah's faith family? You get there by faith, which means baptism. That's why faith is so important; that's how you get into his family. The new badge of family membership is to be baptized into the Messiah, through faith. And Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, chapter 5 that those who are baptized into the Messiah "are a new creation". We just saw him say, "not circumcision or uncircumcision, but only a new creation." 

He is saying baptism is the thing that matters, not circumcision. And then he says [for them to "follow this rule". In fact, he says "peace and mercy to all who follow this rule" of new creation instead of circumcision], this new Torah, and now they are the Israel of God. He's saying: Ok, Israel has been reshaped by something else; it's shaped around Jesus; it's shaped through baptism and faith, not through a set of laws and practices: Torah and kosher and stuff like that.

Which brings us very briefly now to Flaw #3 in the "faith vs. works" interpretation. (You've actually put your books away again.) And this is this problem: Paul tells us at the end of the letter why the Judaizers wanted people to be circumcised. It's not because they thought that's how you're going to be saved. It's not even because that's how they thought you become the people of God. It was fear of Rome. 

Let me explain. In the Roman world, everyone in the Roman world can basically do what you want. But you gotta do two things: you have to pray to two gods; you to pray to Roma as the goddess, and Caesar as the god. The Jewish people were given an exception. Herod the Great's dad saved Julius Caesar when he was besieged in Alexandria, and so when [Judea] was brought in the empire [the Romans] said: "We're gonna give you a special exemption. You don't have to worship the Roman gods; you can keep your one God and pray to your God for the Emperor instead." They're the only people that got that exemption. This is very important. This makes them stick out very uniquely in the Roman world, and they're seen as weirdos, but it's a thing that they need and they're like, "We can live with you if we have this [exemption]. 

So now, see why there's a problem: If people can come along who don't eat like Jews, live like Jews, dress like Jews, behave like Jews in other ways, and then say, "I worship the one God; I [can't worship] Caesar; I [can't] follow the pagan gods,"—now there's a problem. And people are going to look at them and say, "Hey, Jewish people, get your people in line," and [the traditional Jews] are like, "They're not really our people; they're Christians." But the Christians say, "We believe in the one God too." It creates this rift and no one knows really who's on what team. 

The Jewish plan of "Do you dress like us, eat like us, are circumcised like us?"—that showed them who's on the team. That was the worry. They are actually afraid of being rejected or even persecuted, maybe even losing their exemption. And the way we know this is [the context] Paul is talking about is that the three verses before what we just read say this. This how Paul end the letter: he says, "See with what large letters I am writing in my own hand..." Back then you didn't write your own letters. You had voice-to-text. You had your own Siri. It's called a secretary. You paid the money; they write faster than you and better than you and they and they auto correct. Right? And so you have them do it. But Paul writes in his own hand the ending, the thing we've been reading. 

But before [our verses today] he says: "It is those Jews who want to make a good appearance in the flesh that are trying to compel you to have yourselves circumcised." Why?? "Only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ."

In other words, they're worried. They're worried that if you don't have to do [these signs], if you can't be immediately identified as a Jew, then they're all going to get in trouble. They're all going to lose their legal protections. They might even get attacked and they're going to get blamed for things. He even says right after that: "Not even those having themselves circumcised observe the law themselves. They only want you to be circumcised so that they may boast of your flesh." In other words they may turn to their Roman friends and say, "Hey, these guys are Jews just like us. They do the Jewish thing. Give them the protection. They're still Jews who worship God. And then there's [other] people who worship all the Roman gods."

But Christians made for a problem. If the badge of membership isn't kosher laws or circumcision, and the badge of membership is faith and baptism—it's something inside—then that causes a problem. 

And when Paul then keeps talking about the cross he's like, "I would love to make this easy. I would love to tell these people to follow the Jewish laws. But if I do that, I rob the cross of its power. I rob Jesus' death of its power because I'm saying it's not the thing that matters anymore. I'm saying something else matters."

That's how these [three weird Galatians 6] pieces tie back together. He's saying, "If we really believe that the cross made a new creation in people, and people having faith makes them a new creation through baptism, then we have to say they're going to worship the one God and they're part of his family. And whether the Romans like it or not, I don't care. Whether they blame us or not, I don't care. Whether they persecute us or not, I don't care." 

"They have the problem, not us," is what Paul is saying. And that's why he is saying, "Don't make trouble for me. I already bear the wounds of Christ in my body. Don't make trouble for me. I know where I'm at. You have to decide: are you going to bow to the Roman world, and the Jewish people who are scared of the Roman world, or are you going to stick with the cross of Christ and say it changed everything? It made a new creation. Circumcision, uncircumcision, doesn't matter. The cross is what matters. Baptism is what matters. It hit the reset button on the people of God and that's what we have to stick with, even in the face of persecution."

[Author's Note: This could've been even longer. We didn't even touch on how Paul's reference to "this rule" and "the Israel of God" coming as they do at the end of a letter all about the new work of God in the Messiah's death confirm that Jesus, as he himself said, didn't come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, and likewise he isn't coming to supercede Israel, but to be the faithful Israelite and fill up Israel to the full. The cross is not the rebuke of Torah, it's the completion of it. Paul in Romans 3, at the conclusion of his dense passage on Jesus' sacrificial death for our justification "by faith, apart from works of the law" says: "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? By no means! On the contrary we establish/uphold the Law."]

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Thing Higher Than The Highest Things

When Jesus takes the most basic duties of the most essential institutions—duties that surpass even the most bedrock religious obligations of ancient Israel—and says there is something higher, we need to sit up and notice. On three occasions Jesus trumps the very bricks and mortar of the Jewish family by calling upon something even higher: proclaiming the kingdom of God, hearing and obeying the word of God, and doing the will of the Father in heaven. (Lk 9:60, Lk 11:28, Mt 12:50)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Preface of the Holy Trinity

As I have preached for a decade: "If you want to know what a feast day is about, read the preface." And that is all the more true when dealing with a tricky, highly-theological feast like Trinity Sunday. So, what do Catholics believe about this great mystery? Read. The. Preface.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Two Trees in the Garden

Was there one special tree in Eden, or two? Most of us picture that there is just one, but a close reading of the text suggests there are two: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil AND the tree of life. And even when Eve, the serpent, and God speak vaguely about trees, the Hebrew verb yadah reveals the emphasis. The tree of life disappears from the story, but reappears in the Heavenly Jerusalem. And later Christian reflection on the tree of life connects it with the cross of Jesus.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

God Himself Will Be Its Light

Revelation tells us that, surprisingly, the Heavenly Jerusalem doesn't have a temple. But, beyond surprisingly, the city doesn't have sun or moon either. God and the Lamb are its temple, and God's glory is its light, and the Lamb, its lamp. The promise of a temple that can't be destroyed and likewise that the glory of God is inseparable from that temple answers fears left in Jewish hearts since the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the Babylonian Exile: "God will never leave us again; God himself will be our indestructible temple."

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Is the Crucifixion Worship?

Humility, obedience, and love are the heart of worship. In the Garden, those came easy. After the fall, they were difficult; they were sacrificial. On the cross, Jesus is completely sacrificial, but also truly humble, perfectly obedient, and unconditionally loving. Therefore the Crucifixion was the ultimate act of worship, and is the key to both the Lamb's liturgy in heaven and the Mass here on earth.

Is The Crucifixion Worship?

5th Sunday of Easter, Year C

In today's Gospel, at the Last Supper, Jesus talks about glory. What might have caught the disciples' attention there was a Jesus seems to be saying that God will be glorified in Jesus and that Jesus will be glorified in God himself. He in fact says, "If God is glorified in him God will also glorify him in himself." It's a fascinating image of them sharing the same glory. And yet there's also some sort of hierarchy amongst the two of them: who's the origin, and who's the recipient of this glory and things like that. 

We get it because we've heard of the Trinity, unlike the disciples. We are used to being told that there is difference and hierarchy amongst the persons, but there is also the unity and communion of the one true God. 

We saw this actually last week in the Book of Revelation, the second reading. I preached on how the Lamb in the Throne Room is both the one who leads all in worship of the One upon the throne and yet the Lamb also sits on the throne with the Ancient of Days. And he receives the same glory, honor, and blessing as the Lord God. Why? Because he was slain—we are told—therefore he is worthy. Take that, Thor! 

Alright. So the Lamb is both worthy of the same praise and yet he leads the praises going to the Father. That was actually the second time since Easter that I preached on heavenly worship has shown the Book of Revelation. You can look them up on the blog. You can listen to them there and stuff like that, but you don't have to have heard them to follow where we're going today. 

So this homily centers on a question that was asked after last week's homily and that is" "How is the Mass worship?" We say it is, but how exactly? It's a good question. I had to actually think a bit, and as I answered it it actually raised new questions. So there are really two questions to look at today on this idea of worship. 

So "worship" is a funny term. Its meaning can shift around in time, and shift with who the speaker is and who the audience is. We know there's a heavenly worship. That's what the Book of Revelation is all about with all these angels and elders, creatures and martyrs, falling down in worship of God. And that here on Earth, we can do worship too and we are called to do worship. We are called to do that as Christians. And we know that as Christians by definition we worship the one God, the Trinity. 

But how? And where? And when? Catholics don't actually say the word "worship" a whole lot. We rarely use in our advertising, in our bulletins and billboards and stuff like that. You go by other churches and you see it all the time. "Sunday Worship, 9 and 11 a.m." That's a pretty standard thing. So it raises the question: "Is just anything that we do—on Sunday, in a church—is that is that worship right there.? And again, in American English usage in 2019 most of us think of worship as being something about song and prayers, spontaneous praise, a sense of acclimation to God. Stuff like that. Which is definitely part of it, but sometimes that becomes "Oh that's what you mean when you say worship." Like Praise and Worship kind of stuff. 

I've mentioned before that I was in the Inter-Seminary Seminar in Philadelphia. We as seminarians joined seminarians from four other denominations and we would talk about topics. And this one time we had this long discussion about worship, and it mostly focused on music. And at the end of it I was kind of shamed when the Lutheran professor said, "I can't believe we had an hour long conversation about worship and the Catholics never mentioned the Eucharist once." And I was like, "Whoops. I think the botched that...". 

So yes, we tend to hear that word and we think of those sort of things. But for, you know, a thousand years or two, Catholics have continuously said the Sunday Eucharist is our worship. At least since the generation of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, that's been clearly the understanding. So we say it, but how is the Mass worship? That's the first question of the two. How is the Mass worship? 

And this actually came up a little bit during the ad orientem discussion a year ago. Somebody asked a question after I said, "Well, part of it is that we're all worshipping in the same direction." And a person on the Internet said, "Surely Jesus was facing the apostles at the Last Supper, right?" Reasonable point. I think everyone agrees that he was. But realize Martin Luther brought up that same point. His point was that the Sunday Eucharist is this memorial of the Last Supper. And this becomes a defining feature of the Reformation for Luther and Calvin and Cranmer. They said: "It's the Last Supper only. It's the meal. It's the memorial of the meal. That's what you're doing. So do it more like that." Whereas Catholics said, "The Mass is not just the Last Supper. It's the Last Supper, and the Cross, and Easter Sunday, and the Ascension. All of those." Catholics say that Mass isn't just Holy Thursday. It's the worship of Good Friday too. 

Now that leads us to our second question, because a lot of Christians—Catholics and Protestants—would have heard that last sentence and not paused at all: this idea that you're worshipping because [the Mass] is Jesus on the cross. Catholics and Protestants might debate the Sunday Eucharist, but they tend to agree: the crucifixion was worship. "The crucifixion is worship. The Eucharist may be something else—a memorial of the Last Supper, etc.—but duh, of course the cross is Jesus' worship. Most Western Christians in the last 500 years would agree on that: that the crucifixion was Jesus' worship. In the last 50 years, some people got kind of scared of the cross and now run away from it so they might not say that, but overall, the totality of people would say, "Jesus on the cross is worshiping the Father."

Where does that idea come from? Well, you find it was an Old Testament references. Malachi 111. Chapter 1, verse 11 says, "For from the rising of the sun even to its setting my name will be great among the nations. And in every place, burnt offering will be offered to my name." So it's perfect worldwide worship through sacrifice. You'll actually hear that Malachi line quoted in Eucharistic Prayer 3 today. 

Then you come to the New Testament, and the Apostles see that [Malachi's prophecy] has been fulfilled. So in Romans 3:25 (I preached on this at Easter) "God presented the Messiah as a sacrifice of atonement in the shedding of His blood through faith." So he saying that Jesus' death was a sacrifice. Specifically a sacrifice like that found in temple worship. 

But there's kind of an unspoken mental jump there that we're making. Why is the cross worship? That's the second question: "Why was Jesus' death on the cross a kind of worship?" Even granting that the Mass may be Good Friday too, Why (or how) is the cross worship? It's a really legitimate question—though we don't usually think about it—that has some cool answers. 

We might reply. Well, duh, of course it's worship. It's a sacrifice. And practically everybody on the planet connects worship and sacrifice. That's true. In almost every culture, if we're going to go worship our God or gods, we take a goat for sacrifice, or we bring some human sacrifices of people we've captured, or like that. That's pretty standard. Yes, but why? Why do we do that, why do we connect sacrifice and worship as a human race? Why do we even non-Christians and non-Jews think the same way? Why will a tribe maybe bring its captives to be offered, Jews offer up sheep in the temple, and Catholics offer up Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. 

So let's think this through. So we've got our two questions out there. Why is the Mass worship? And why is the cross worship?  But now let's walk through the answer here. Take this step by step. 

First, let me ask you: What do we as human beings least like to do? And I think it goes something like this: What do we not want to do as humans? To be humble. To be obedient. And to be charitable—to be truly, unconditionally loving. Those are hard. And if my 39 years in this planet has taught me anything, it's that the tasks that I least want to do, are probably the ones I most [need] to do. Do you have that experience? I think we all have it. Usually it involves cleaning some part of the house we don't want to do. 

So we can probably bet that if humility, obedience, and charity (or love) are the hardest things for us to do, that probably means they're the most important virtues for us to grow in. We need to humble our pride, to do the things we don't want to do (obedience), and to love those that we don't want to love. 

But it wasn't always that way, right? So, step two. Let's go back into the garden. Let's go back to the beginning of creation. God makes the first humans and they instinctively worship him. It comes right out of their very being. And, lo and behold, the components of their worship, the things that burst out of them, the things that glorify God and that filled them with joy, are the very things that we just said are probably the most important [virtues] for us to have:. 

Humility. They knew, incredibly clearly, who they were: that they were creatures of a good, loving, creator God. They knew they were dependent on him. 

Obedience. It was obvious to them that God would have the best plan. So why wouldn't they just do what he told them to do? 

And then love or charity. Love was like the factory-default setting for them. That was how they were made. God loved them. They love God. They loved each other. Everything was hunky dory. 

So these three things filled them with worship there in the garden, and their worship of God increased those three virtues in them. At least for the first two chapters, right?

And then we know those things broke. That they failed at those. So that brings us to the third step here. What happens in that third chapter [of Genesis]? Not humility, but pride. Not obedience, but disobedience. Not love, but breaking from that love. And in fact even when you look at different definitions of original sin it's usually like, "Well, it might be a physical action but also it's our pride or it's our disobedience or it's our failure to love. It's those things." In the third chapter, they choose not to do that, which means their worship ceased. When they're no longer doing those three, they cease to worship. 

And because it's a cycle, without worship those virtues in them—humility, obedience, and love—also begin to shrink up. What were once the easy virtues of worship in Eden have now become....what? The hard work of sacrifice. Humility, obedience, and love are now hard, even painful. Therefore they are sacrificial. 

Whether people follow one God or many, the things of worship now feel difficult and sacrificial. If I have to give up my goat or give him the first fruits of my produce or whatever, that's hard. I feel like I'm losing something. But that instinct remains in humans that something about giving that away is worshipful. Something about surrendering that, is a kind of worship. 

And we see the Old Testament, God tells them specifically how to do that. Now if we're being honest a lot of that was straight obedience, right? God tells you to do it. And so you say, "Okay God I'll do it. I'll bring my sheep. I'll bring my turtledoves. I'll bring my goat or whatever." There was some humility because humility connects to thankfulness. And there's a sense of: "God, I didn't do these crops on my own. I didn't make these lambs healthy on my own. You did that. So yeah I'll give you the very best of the things that have grown up in my in my farm."

Love? There should have been love with it, but we get the impression that it wasn't always a thing of love. It was more a thing of obedience, and I just need to do this; it is what the Torah asks. 

Which brings us then to the fourth step. So, we haven't been faithful. We have failed in faithfulness. Adam and Eve failed in that. And then everyone after them fell in that as well. But what if someone were truly faithful? What if someone is actually faithful in all things. And that's what Paul and the other apostles insisted on: That Jesus comes along and he is the faithful one. He is the faithful servant to the end. He is the faithful Messiah. 

And so we look on the cross. And do we see that faithfulness lived out in those three virtues we talked about? You look at the cross. Do you see humility? Absolutely. Because you see humiliation: the Romans mocking him, the Jewish high priests mocking him, being stripped of his clothes, the pain, the suffering. We see total humility, total surrender right there. We even connect it with the idea of the lamb. You know we're told in Isaiah 53 that he went to his death like a lamb to the slaughter. That humility, that surrender going on there, is pretty clear. 

Obedience. The Book of Hebrews is obsessed with the obedience of Jesus. In fact it basically makes the case that it wasn't even his body and blood on the cross that mattered it was his will. The sheep goes to the slaughter because it's stupid. Right? The Lamb of God, the one leading heavenly worship, goes to its death by its choice. It willingly says, "Yes, Father I will follow you in all things. I will tell your truth in all places. And if that ticks people off and sends me to the cross, so be it. I'm obedient to the end and even on the cross I give my perfect 'yes' to the things you ask of me. It's the surrender of my will."

And then we look at the cross and do we see love? Absolutely. For most of us, that's the first thing we think of. We don't think of humility and obedience; we think of love. There's the love of one who said, "This person is a sinner and I still die for them." Paul tells us that even when we were yet enemies of God he sent his son to die for us. Perfect sacrificial. So the cross is ultimate humility, complete obedience, and sacrificial love even for us the unworthy. 

So it does all the things that are most sacrificial. But it also does all the things that at the beginning of time were worship (and that we had done imperfectly in worship since then). It does all those things. It has humility, it has obedience, and love. It is therefore complete worship and complete sacrifice. 

So hopefully that makes more sense of why we can say that the cross is Jesus' worship, and why we can say—if the Mass is us having Jesus' cross and sacrifice there to offer—that is our worship too. 

And yes he worshipped once on Good Friday on the cross, but as Revelation is telling us, he worships from all time in heaven as well—leading our worship. 

And then finally, to end with that line from the Gospel, [the cross] has both: it has that love—"love one another as I have loved you; they'll know you're my disciples by your love for one another." But he says that immediately after he says, "I will glorify the Father and he will glorify me." Love and glory, love and worship, are not separate. They are one and the same because sacrifice and worship go hand-in-hand as well. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Heavenly Throne Room

Sunday I focused on the second reading, from the Book of Revelation. I picked up a theme from two weeks ago: heavenly worship of God through, and alongside, the Lamb. I didn't mention it in the homily, but this with-but-through paradox of Trinitarian worship fits well with the Gospel too:
                                      John 10   →   Revelation 
1) "I give them eternal life" → "you purchased them with your blood"
2) "I know them; them follow me" → "the Lamb will shepherd them; they worship before the throne"
3) "The Father and I are one" → "to the One on the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing, honor, glory, and might."

Yes, we worship Jesus and God-incarnate, and yet Jesus leads us in worship of the Father.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Peter's Own Divine Mercy Sunday

1) Did you grow up hearing that the threefold "Do you love me?" was Jesus letting Peter take back his denials?

2) Did you grow up hearing that the Greek words for love (philia and agape) both get used in this passage showing a disconnect between Peter and Jesus?

3) Did you (wrongly) get told that Peter finally catches on and tells Jesus that Yes, he agape-loves him?

Well, it's time we clear up that confusion, learn that actually Jesus comes down to Peter's lower love, and see that this makes total sense of the next line about how Peter is not yet ready to love Jesus unconditionally, to the end. And that Jesus, in his mercy not only doesn't punish for sins but also doesn't punish for our slowness to grow in virtue, provided we listen when he says, "Follow me."

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The High Priest of Revelation

St. Paul tells us that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man. St. John in his first letter says Jesus is our advocate who ever pleads our cause to the Father. The Letter to the Hebrews constantly affirms that Jesus is our great high priest. We should not be surprised then that the Book of Revelation starts with Jesus dressed as a high priest of Israel, surrounded by liturgical imagery, and then shows that as human Messiah and divine Victor, he is the ideal mediator between fallen humanity and the heavenly Father. Revelation then, isn't a play-by-play of tribulations and the end of the space-time continuum as much as it is a vision of the perpetual worship in heaven, the constant struggle on earth, and of Jesus as leader of the faithful in both.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

3 Days, 1 Mystery, 6 Verbs

1) In Lent we usually force ourselves to not think about Easter. And then we get to Easter and forget Lent. We can struggle to hold the Paschal Mystery as one, and let Good Friday and Easter permeate each other.
2) And then, what happened in those mysterious High Holy Days? The apostles ransacked the prophets and psalms to try —not to explain so much as to describe— what happened within that Mystery. They use at least six different words to tell us what the Messiah did for man, and we might be selling them short by conflating those images and their scriptural contexts into "now I can go to heaven went I die."

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Holy Thursday: France & The Eucharist

Recently on social media I've seen an anonymous Roman prelate quoted commenting on some exercise in theological banter (a conference, the Council, a continuing education workshop?) who barked something like "Less chatter, more processions!" (I've also heard "banter" and "chit chat" so there must be some great Italian word behind this.) We moderns like to think that we are thinking people. But if so, we might want to rethink that, and see if we don't get more out of a life of story and song, icons and mysteries, wayside shrines and cool, dark churches. And to support that argument, for Holy Thursday I reflected on two modern Frenchmen who lived their Catholic Faith in the very teeth of secular opposition: François Mauriac (interwar poet) and Fr. Jean-Marc Fournier (rescuer of Notre Dame cathedral). These two get it. And they don't mind living it aloud even if others don't. And they showcase the very best of 1,500 years of French Christianity—lived real and tangible and devout. [I'll see if I can get some text up later, or at least some of the best quotes from them and others.]

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Palm Sunday Preface

There are two qualities needed in order to be a good Palm Sunday homily: 1) say something worthwhile about the events of Holy Week/the Paschal Mystery, and 2) be short. You'll have to judge whether this homily achieved the first requirement, but at least it pulled off the second one.

For, though innocent, he suffered willingly for sinners
and accepted unjust condemnation to save the guilty.
His Death has washed away our sins,
and his Resurrection has purchased our justification.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Safe Haven Sunday: No Shame, No Fear

Sexual sin, and the shame that comes with it, is not new. The two-pronged response of Jesus in the gospel and for us trying to protect our family and community is: break through the shame and fear and then set the person on the road to freedom and recovery.  Don't hesitate to contact your priests to get referrals to therapy and recovery groups for yourself, your family, your spouse. (This is both the audio of me reading the Bishop's letter for Safe Haven Sunday and then going directly into the homily; if you heard the letter elsewhere you can start 01:45)

5th Sunday of Lent, Year C

(Sorry, this is just my notes; not the complete text of the homily)

Bishop's Letter

Safe haven Sunday, 25 dioceses

Ideal weekend to put it on, 

since obviously the gospel has to do with sins of the flesh...

And shame

And fear

And competing modes of how to respond to the struggle 

Ideal place for reflection: what do we do? 

2 answers even in Jesus’s own final statement:

Neither do I condemn

Go and sin no more

He lifts the shame

Sets on a path to solid freedom and recovery

We do hear in a thing like Safe Haven Sunday, A call to protect,
Be vigilant,
Lay down defenses,
Not pull punches in calling out what is dangerous,
Not be wishy washy
Not be naive

Little booklet is great on that.  

But we also recognize that shame is not our friend in this work, 
And shame will quickly undermine what we Christians actually want
For our brothers and sisters,
Sons and daughters

Ch. 6, the fourth wall

Safety and trust within the home...

Openness and healing, 
not shame and hiding

8yo sees a pop up or a weird scene on tv

Safety to say it

11yo curious and tempted

Vulnerable—through trust and love—to admit

14yo to admit and say I need help. I’m caught in this

We might be tempted to assume it’s just a certain age range or a single gender. 

It’s not. 

So we, as families and as a community, need to be putting out the constant message:

Do not be afraid 

Do not be ashamed

Quoting Jesus: “Then neither to I condemn you”

This isn’t your fault; 
this didn’t start with you; 
you were targeted from an early age by marketers and media makers 

You are not alone. 

We will get you help. 

We won’t abandon you in this.

We love you; 
we don’t despise you.  

We will do anything it takes to help you get free

But know that—because of our great love for you—we will fight hard against the thing that is tormenting you.

Who do we go to? 

Talk to me. 

Talk to Fr. Kilcawley. 

He’s got tons of counselors to refer you to. 

Most likely, we would visit with you and send you to some trained to really start recovery. 

Even if you want to tell priests nothing and just get a referral: awesome. 

And like I said, this doesn’t apply to just one gender,
and it isn’t a message that stops at 14 or 18 or 22. 

We are now to the point where multiple generations have been surrounded and attacked, 

and probably with more casualties than escapees. 

And so to the adult here:

If this is a problem for you, or

For a spouse

For a friend

For an adult son or daughter

For a boyfriend or girlfriend

Again, the message of today’s gospel is the same:

We love you

We will help you

We cannot be a community of shame

We have to be a community of healing 

....of recovery 

Of vulnerability and transparency

“Vulnerability kills shame”

Help is available. 

Mentioned therapy

Kilcawley: Therapy, recovery group, eventually spiritual direction 

Recovery groups

About 40 years ago, 2 guys who were struggling, took the AA model, the Alcoholics Anonymous model, and applied it to these kind of behaviors 

There is one of those meetings for men right here in Wahoo every week. 

Not the kind of thing that is advertised openly

But if you come to one of us priests, 
either in the confessional or in person, 
we can tell you when 
and where it meets. 


Not one in Wahoo that I know 

All-women Lincoln, 

I think Omaha too

Could have one here. All you need is 2-3 people who will be honest and vulnerable and can meet regularly. 

SAnon: for, not the addict, but those affected by it—spouse, kids, etc.

Books and Cards

Concluding thought

Beside the gospel today, it’s great this happens in Lent

We know that Jesus came to take on—not only our sin—but our shame as well

He came that his wounds might heal our wounds

So we can, in our turn, break down those barriers of shame

To say—even though it’s awkward—we can talk about this...

We need to talk about this. 

Open up that path of communication 

So that what is broken may be healed

And what is hidden in darkness may come to light