Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Are You Moses' Dude?

A bit of a Scripture scavenger hunt and then some hard words about what we have to do to follow in the footsteps of The Prophet.

4th Sunday B

Take out your Missalette and open to p. 51.

Going to go on a bit of a scavenger hunt today.

1st reading: Deuteronomy

Mostly a long sermon before entering the promised land: Moses says “Sit down; I’ve got some things I need to tell you all since I’m not going with you.”

“A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you…”

We have some general ideas about a prophet.

They speak word of God

Often, that’s a challenging word.

Sometimes it involves foretelling the future.

In fact, next paragraph in Deuteronomy after this reading ends here in chapter 18 gives the criteria for testing a prophet’s telling of things to come.

But it’s not always foretelling.

Sometimes it’s just critique from within the people of Israel.

But the prophet must speak the word of Israel’s God.

So these are qualities of a prophet.

We know some of these prophets.

Some write big books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel.

Some write short books, like Hosea and Amos and Malachi.

And some don’t write books, but appear in other’s books:Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha.

This we know.

But it seems like Moses is referring to something a little different than just those guys.

“A prophet like me will the Lord raise up…”


From your own kin (seems an important, emphasized point).

Why will he do this?

“This is exactly what you requested of the LORD, your God”

When did they request this?

“you requested of the LORD, your God, at Horeb, on the day of the assembly”

Horeb = Mt. Sinai

So at Sinai, right before the Commandments were given

“On the day of the assembly”

Exodus 19 (sometimes read on Pentecost)

The mountain is shrouded in thick cloud, with lightning, thunder, earthquake, smoke and fire and loud trumpet blasts.

This was the great theophany, the “showing of God”.

Going back a step: Why did they request someone else?

Because they had been scared nearly to death by the experience.

Exodus 20: “They became afraid and trembled. So they took up a position farther away and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we shall die.’ Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid, for God has come only to test you and put the fear of him upon you so you do not sin.’ But the people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the dark cloud where God was.”

So back to what you have in front of you: “Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God, nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.

And God responds: Great idea! (“This was well said.”)

Raise a prophet like you—like you Moses—from their kin.

Then we are told the Prophet’s qualities:

I will put my words in his mouth
He will speak what I command
And the people will have to answer for it

Here is an important point though: Moses is talking about “A prophet”.

Not prophetS.

Not some prophets.

It appears as a singular—even though the next lines suggest there can be other people who are prophets—God and Moses seem to refer to a singular prophet.

This helps us with another mystery.

Flip to p. 27; back to the 3rd Sunday of Advent.

The authorities in Jerusalem are sending out messengers to John the Baptist, asking who he is.

Are you the Christ/messiah/king-hero?

Nope, not the Christ.

Are Elijah? —because Malachi 4 says that Elijah will return before the day of the Lord.

Nope. Not Elijah.

Are you The Prophet?

Wait, what? Why would they ask that? They just asked if he was Elijah.

But no.

The question was not: “Are you Elijah the prophet?”

Nor was it “Are you a prophet?”

It was specifically: are you the prophet?

This could confuse us.

But it wouldn’t have confused John. He knew exactly what they were asking:

Are you Moses’ dude?

Are you “The prophet that God would raise up after Moses, like Moses himself?”

And John says no.

He knows the question, and he knows he’s not Elijah and he knows he’s not that Prophet either.

So let’s go to today’s gospel now, on p. 53

We know the Church puts Gospels and 1st readings together.

So that means that Jesus’s casting out a demon and Moses’ promising a prophet must be somehow linked.

But if you scan the gospel it doesn’t mention a prophet anywhere.

Which makes some sense.

There’s nothing in the description of prophets connected to this. In fact, I challenge anyone to find a prophet in the O.T. casting out demons.

These are two separate things:

We have a young rabbi who teaches and preaches (this sounds very much like a prophet).

And we have an exorcist and miracle worker.

Two different activities, two kinds of roles in the Jewish world.

We know from Mt/Lk that the Jewish people had their own exorcists.

“If I cast out demons by Beelzebub...”

But notice what the people say after watching Jesus do an exorcism in the middle of his teaching/preaching/prophetic work in the synagogue:

“What is this? A new teaching with authority.”

Teaching = prophetic

Authority = power to do things

We hear this “he teaches with authority,” like he’s just really smart. Or has a strong tone of voice. Or is really confident in what he says.

But no, he’s underlining his prophetic words with a show of supernatural power and authority not usually associated will that office.

He’s bringing the two together.

And good: because he’s going to say some challenging things:

Your sins are forgiven. Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. Yes, take up your mat even though it’s the Sabbath. Something greater than the Temple is here. The Father and I are one.

He better have something to for show for this.

Ok, put your books away.

To bring this to the present day then, let’s realize that through baptism we share in Jesus’ prophetic role.

He is the Prophet, the Priest, and the King. And through baptism, we share in those offices.

We are all called to prophesy.

To speak God’s words into a world that might not want to hear them.

To teach in our words and actions.

To proclaim that the kingdom is at hand.

To name Jesus as king and lord of the world.

Now, we’re not going to have power to exorcise demons.

We aren’t going to be doing miracles.

But we are called to show that his words have power and authority behind them by how we live.

We can’t ask people to believe that the word of Christianity is true but not live like it.

If we proclaim it, we must live like it has power.

We can’t send out kids to a Catholic school and then be crude or unkind at those schools’ games.

We can’t send our kids to CCD and GodTeens and then not go to church on Sunday.

We can’t be in a Catholic ladies group and then go out and spread gossip.

We can’t be in a Catholic men’s fraternal association and then go out and talk like we’re in a locker room.

We can’t put Jesus on our Facebook or in our front yards at Christmas time and then not have him daily in our hearts too.

We can’t talk about the wonders of God’s mercy offered in the confessional but then not forgive our brothers and sisters.

Being a prophet is hard.

It’s hard to be in the line of Moses, and of the prophets.

It’s harder to be in the line of Jesus.

But if we want to have people listen to the prophetic message and change their lives, we must always act as changed individuals too.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Prayer, Pain, and Abel

Today's homily—talking about private prayer, the upcoming Rosary crusade, and the story of little Abel's time—has a lot of ad libs and storytelling and important emotional features. Because of this, I'm not bothering to attach a text version of it. (If you're looking for just Abel's story, it starts about 13:00.)

Friday, January 12, 2018

All Together Now

Over the last year, probably unbeknownst to most parishioners and blog followers, I was crafting an extended reflection on why and how we worship. Now that 2017 is over I want to put all the little pieces back together in on a single frame. This way the continuity and flow are evident, and also if other priests want to beg, borrow, and steal liturgy ideas they can find them all in one place. 

Really it began at Easter with the "People don't die for what they know they made up" homily. That sermon was evangelical and apologetic, but for the purposes of worship and beauty, it's necessary first to establish that Jesus and his resurrection are real, otherwise were just making up fun little pantomimes for a outdated fairytale.

The next layer of foundation was laid on Trinity Sunday. First, I challenged the idea that we need to be able to understand and explain verbally everything we hold to as Christians (hint: we don't). Second, I wanted to get people pondering the idea that we are here to worship. Not just to pray, or to ask for for things, or even to be close to God, but to worship—a term Catholics have largely surrendered to the Evangelical Christian world and their music.

The two big, direct, set-up pieces were the homily on beauty and symbol and sacred actions ("If I could've explained it I wouldn't have needed to dance it") and the one on our insatiable desire for stories, our instinctive use of imagination, and our need to read the Christian narrative as the amazing story it really is, by reclaiming theological imagination

Then, at the beginning of October, I started us looking more intensely and practically at our own worship as I introduced ad orientem worship here with the "I wish I had a hat" homily. (A funny sidenote: when I wrote the "If I could've explained it..." homily, I intended that to be a set-up for ad orientem, but actually as I wrote the "Hat" homily I realized that everything about AO was not mysterious and really quite explicable.)

After ad orientem worship began I started to write weekly blurbs in the bulletin to cover topics and questions I couldn't get to in Mass. I republished them on the blog here and here and here.

On November 1st, I reflected on the roles of the saints in our liturgical worship and specifically talked about the reason saints are placed in a high altar/reredos and how that works with our theological imagination of praise and intercession.

Finally, on the Sunday after Christmas I had us reflect on the Christmas Preface about "The wondrous exchange", the admirabile commercium. And after we pondered the up and down, back and forth nature of Christmas, Christian life, and divine worship, I went to the altar and showed how the two turns at the Liturgy of the Eucharist demonstrate this two-fold divine exchange perfectly. 

So, I think we have covered what we needed to cover about our worship for the moment. We are praying all together now, facing the same direction, and this now, all together, was the full story of how we got there!

PS: There was a great article by Msgr. Charles Pope last week about how even a non-ad orientem parish can start doing their worship differently and praying more clearly to the Father. We already had a lot of these pieces in place, and I think that helped us make what is not an easy transition. Also I encourage priests to use all available tools they have with their eyes, heads, and shoulders to help people to realize that they are talking to the Father, even when praying versus populum.